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Living Without It

ISSUE:  Summer 2010
Let me know if you need something. If I don’t have it, I’ll teach you how to live without it.
Kansas lore

When my father sent me to fetch a box-end wrench, and
I couldn’t find it, he rolled from beneath the Model-T,
hissing goddammits between his teeth,

and, after scattering tools from one end of the yard to the other,
settled on a pair of pliers that, as he said later,
did the trick, though the knuckles

on his right hand were as red, as he put it, as a baboon’s ass.
At that time in my life I had never seen a baboon,
much less its behind, but I had seen

my buddy Tub Schmidt naked in the shower at the local pool
scratching his jumbo rump until it turned
first a delicate pink, then a fire-truck

red, the rest of his flab the color of the underside of the channel
I caught out of old man Simpson’s pond,
nightcrawlers gone but

plenty of doughballs left, doughballs for the carp, some of them
big enough, so my companion Larry said,
to swallow old Jonah, which I

told myself to remember to tell my Sunday school teacher,
but of course I forgot, or maybe remembered
but thought better of telling,

Mrs. Heath an elderly woman whose husband had died many
years ago, and who taught only boys because she
wanted to be frank, she said,

too frank for the sensitive ears of the girls, and though I
listened week into week to hear something
frank, I never heard it, so I just

went on living without it, my father meanwhile at regular
intervals lying beneath the Model-T, asking
always, or so it seemed,

for the tool we didn’t have, his knuckles, like the patience
old Job must have learned as he sat
alone and bereft on a dunghill,

full of blood and just waiting to bleed.

—for and after Wendell Berry


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