They spoke no English
For Lennart and Inger Öhnell, Furudals Bruk, Sweden
by Stephen Keeler
They came each summer
like some slow-migrating creature from the north
sure of the way but no longer in a hurry
the couple whose names I can’t recall
or never knew in all the years
their ancient Volvo pick-up
settling in the shade of wistful birches
docile as the last milk-cow.
He always drove
in flannel shirt despite the heat
in dungarees and wooden shoes
a long-peaked cap pulled down against
the unaccustomed glare of southern light
on uncut grass.
They came to mow the lower field
the way a priest comes to a country wedding
and shave the lawns around the flag-pole
at the manor house and whitewash
every stone that lined the carriage-drive.
The woman lame from childhood smiled
more than the man and looking up
I’d sometimes catch her straightening her back
a wrist against a freckled forehead as swallows flew
their brazen cuts into electric skies.
Still a young father then I’d set my books aside
and look at you and thank the thing I always thank
that we could spend our summers here too
shoulder-deep in snapdragons and vetch
to watch swallows and the couple from the north
whose dialect I never fathomed and who came here
every year just to cut the grass.