Obligations

Sep 20, 2019

Today’s poem is “Obligations” by Russell Libby, from his book Balance A Late Pastoral. He worked at Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for many years, and through that organization he was able to work with others to strengthen their commitment to many environmental issues. Russell lived a little more than half his life on Three Sisters Farm in Mount Vernon, Maine and died in 2012 at the age of 56.  

His widow Mary Ann writes, “Mostly the poems he wrote about our place (which is even more weedy and overgrown at this point) came from a deep love and understanding of this bit of land/water/woods/fields, and his very keen sense of observation, …but sometimes there was a bit of frustration -- as you can see in "Obligations", because he understood how much work it would take to regain loss, and there simply wasn't the time or resources.  Still, we did what we could, he was glad of any steps he could take, and he honored the work --  like the stone walls, which he revered -- of the people who came before us.” 

Obligations 
by Russell Libby

Sometimes I think I’m the only person embarrassed
by the shrinking of the fields, saplings becoming trees,
sugar maples I hope to tap one day
creeping into the pasture nearest the barn.
Yet if we’re supposed to think seven generations forward,
shouldn’t we also go back at least a few?
I found George Washington Gordon’s walking stick
in the haymow of the old barn,
a short piece of apple wood deliberately shaped to the job
over several growing seasons.

If a man about five foot six could clear this land,
lay stone walls,
haul and hew timbers,
raise the big barn,
milk cows by hand twice a day,
plow with oxen,
shear,
mow,
pitch on,
stow away,
work taxes out by building roads,
and keep doing it for fifty years,
it seems the very least I should do
is keep the stone walls in clear view.

Poem copyright © 2007 by Russell Libby. Reprinted from Balance: A Late Pastoral, Blackberry Books, 2007, by permission of Mary Anne Libby.