Northwords Now Issue 38

The FREE literary magazine of the North

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.