Listen: A Fable

Sculpture: Evgeny Vuchetich.
Sculpture: Evgeny Vuchetich.

From my morning-quiet field I heard those martial trumpets — oh, I heard them well.

I stood on my farm among my wheat in the wind, the stalks rubbing together with the whispers of bedsheets. All about, stems grew up from the earth, pushed aside small stones in titters of growth. Smooth stones, worn young again by rain and rivers. They nestled with sighs into dirt made of the remnants of other, elder straw.

Louder than the growing pains of my food, oh!, I heard those brass bells and clamors.

A war was started, and I owned a fine sword. A well-made blade, thick enough for two weapons, forged atop a balance well-weighted by love.

My sword, stainless steel, machined in a Midwest factory, sold to me on a television shopping channel. So I practiced the arts of my land.

When I practiced by sunrise with my sword in my field, dewdrops sang over its sharpness. I made tornadoes in the firmament, working through my forms.

“This,” I said to the stalks, “so that you will have memories.”

Those blasts! Those slippery valves!

So much noise, I went to hide inside, went to my safest place, where I kept my sword. I laid there a moment, and then, I carried my sword out, to my anvil. There, I beat against my sword with my heaviest sledge, which felt pregnant with lead and load.

My sword broadened as if spilled milk and the cutting edge thinned. Yes, I was very tempted to cry, but I didn’t. I kept myself as strong as I could possibly be with all that racket and parade in the air.

Once my sword had ripped storms through such air, but now we were all memory, too.

In the afternoon, the Army came to enlist me, wearing his medals, brandishing his own foil, far less fearsome than mine had been.

“We need you,” The Army said. “We’ve heard of your sword. We’ve heard it over the summer breeze and these cool, fall drafts.”

“I don’t have a sword,” I said. “Only a plowshare.”

“What a shame. When you lose your strength, you lose your peace.”

The Army left my house, and I walked again into my field, this time carrying with me my plow. I began to till for the next season, pushing aside this year’s crop, though today was really too early for harvest, and planting time was long past.

I plowed for sounds. Layers of earth broke over the share. As I struck them, pebbles clanged out their tiniest gunshots. The ground squealed and screeched.

Turning the soil, I cast my weakest plants aside. Then, I pulled up my strongest, well-rooted crops with my bare hands, and they gave me pitiful, pithy screams in a friction we overcame together. Later, I would come along and pluck them up into a black plastic garbage bag, the detritus of my efforts.

If the Army had stayed into dinner, we would have eaten my stew, made mostly of unripened roots and shoots.

I would have told him that killing gets done by more than swords, that there are so many weapons in any good, sweet home. Some loud, some quiet. Some aching for use, some content to rust.

There are differences in volume and desire as there are in swords, and there are no differences at all. There are differences of handles and handlers. Differences in chopsticks and knives. There are differences in parades and marches, differences in the purpose of a band in uniform, and differences in the staccato blats and quavers come from a row of trombones.

And yet there are no differences at all. There is only war, and the memory of war, which is sometimes mistaken for peace. 

Curtis VanDonkelaar writes in West Michigan, where most all his work is set. Before fiction, worked in libraries, pizza joints, and as a freelance musician. When not writing, and sometimes when, he teaches writing at Michigan State University. Previously, he taught creative writing at Western Michigan University, where he went to graduate school and was a copy editor with New Issues Poetry & Prose. He works studiously upon two short story collections and two novels, one or more of which are finished.

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