On the farm, I understand exactly the degree to which I have come to depend on alcohol, since in the first three weeks I think about it frequently and get worried and even look for it twice in the farmer’s house, and on the fourth week I am less interested, and on the fifth week I do other things. Five weeks is a long time on the farm. The farmer is sixty-eight, but he looks a good ways older than that, even though he rarely drinks or smokes. He has very dark forearms and you can almost see through his legs. I am helping him, or at least, I am someone who is here to help him.
He makes his living by selling goat cheese, and every day he takes his eighty goats through the forest in which the farm has grown, down to a reservoir that gets lower as the years dry up. He is looking for green things that the goats can eat. Each day it seems, at this point, he says, there are less and less green things to be found.
The farmer’s existence is a settled matter. He is without versions. I look and speak to him, knowing he will die just as he lives now. It will happen at the edge of a reservoir so deep he can no longer see it; he will lie down among seventy goats between the woods and its silence for all it has lost. At the farmer’s impression of his own walking stick, his goats might pause, confused. Some might stray and make other homes, and some might come back to their stable. But they will return to him, surely, when he is a green thing to be split in sixty pieces.
The farmer’s existence is a settled matter. That’s why he’s so quiet and so at peace, without the help of those instruments we need to help us. Implements I need to help me. I think of how strange his hands would look around glass bottles.
On the farm, with its vast view of brown trees above the valley of disappearing water, I stack bales of hay and cut branches for the goats to lie in. That is all I do. Off the farm, where I need so many things, I do nothing.
They are not animals of mourning. They shit everywhere. I find one nosing at her own tits, in a black-tire-mark ditch from a forest fire where fifty people died. It is difficult to drive through smoke, explains the farmer. Even more so to open melted doors. On the other side of the valley I see forty more ditches, each greenless and filled with its own crumpled goat, sniffing food for the kids she won’t have. This is the only way that goats are like people, running out of things to be and so becoming headstones.
On the farm communication is important, even though it is almost always silent here. To have cheese, you must have milk, and to have milk, you must ask a goat to give it. Grip and pull down: Hello lady, may I have some milk? You can say it in your head, but you must say it, and wait thirty times for a warm white answer.
The farmer’s stick walks take longer these days. I stack hay and spread branches and smoke while he waits for twenty deaths to turn green, careful not to fall into the black ditches, without enough headstones to warn him. When he returns and puts his goats to bed, we make dinner and eat at midnight. I don’t think he sleeps anymore. He stays up to make his cheese. And one night when he can no longer make cheese, he says, he will bring us a bottle of wine. Then I am almost thankful, because I know it will happen soon, the end of the walk, the halt at the mythical reservoir, but I say: Have I helped you? Have you needed me? You don’t know how I’ve needed you.
And because he doesn’t speak like me, and because he doesn’t believe himself deserving of thanks, he answers: Nothing.
Tomorrow he is walking into the forest, down inside the valley followed by ten goats, and soon, I know, it will just be me left to join him. When my turn comes, I stop laying my branches and we go together to what we know is already gone. And when we see it, the empty ditch surrounded by all the empty ditches, I don’t think either of us turn around. We have no goats to bring home. I have forgotten the color green. There is only the memory of his legs. But by now, as we lie here, or perhaps if we wait a while, surely, everything will come back.
Rumpus original art by Lisa Marie Forde