A Pastoral Scene

I drove into town the other day,
at dawn on the first clear morning of Spring,
and I passed a wide metal gate
closing off a crooked barbed-wire fence,
the kind that silently guard the perimeter of a pasture.

Beyond the gate, and the fence to which it was attached,
hills rolled endlessly into the distance,
here and there dotted by blossoming bushes
and thin clumps of greening trees,
the kind that cast long shadows in the early morning light.

I watched as the scene retreated
into the distance of my rear-view mirror,
then turned my attention back toward the stream of cars
in which I was steadily flowing
down a winding back road,
the short-cut on my way to work.

Whenever I see one of those gates
And one of those fences,
I am tempted to park on the shoulder of the road,
beyond the reach of the morning’s traffic.

I imagine abandoning the car,
leaving the door hanging open as I walk away.
I would approach the gate slowly,
then pause a moment, leaning against the twilight-chilled metal.

After some time I would climb over
and step softly into the gravel on the other side;
I think it would be like crossing into another realm,
as if Eden had all along been hidden in Missouri.

As I began walking, I might picture the frustration of archaeologists
searching the Dead Sea for clues,
lifetimes spent scrutinizing maps and books
hoping to find the field just west of St. Louis.

I would think about the other drivers
who were streaming down the road that morning
hurrying toward some place
to and from where they will return again, and again,

and I would keep walking,
the memory of the gate, my car, and the highway
beginning to crumble and unravel in my mind,
leaving behind a trail of yarn or breadcrumbs,
one I would not follow back.

I often think about the purpose of such a gate,
that it is meant to grant passage to broken-in farm trucks,
to stand watch over ancient grey barns,
and to keep cows and horses near a cozy Midwestern farmhouse
set somewhere beyond view of the highway.

Or, maybe, the gate is there for a more important reason,
to prevent daily traffickers from testing the barrier
as they pass by the field during morning commutes,
to keep them from guessing the pasture-owner’s secret:

if you leave behind everything,
and walk the dew-soaked grass beyond the fence
the last that might be seen of you
is a silhouette on the crest of the farthest hill
just before it vanishes into sunrise.

Michael Hylton, St. Louis, 2011


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