I find the idea that we write alone laughable, even egotistical. Poetry is a palimpsest that has been endlessly rewritten—it’s a social space we share with others.
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Woodchuck was wandering on a path through woods one day when his leg caught in some vines.
At first say the people who tell his stories Woodchuck was surprised and laughed at himself for being so careless but it was harder to extricate himself from the cords at his feet than he expected.
As he pulled the vines seemed to tighten on him and soon he was caught fast by the other leg as well.
He took a knife out of his travel bag but when he reached down to cut himself free somehow his arm got caught in the undergrowth as well and when he reached for it with his free hand this was caught too.
The more he struggled the tighter he was held.
Caught by all four limbs Woodchuck looked up at a rustling in the woods about a quarter-mile away.
It was a human walking.
The human got closer.
Woodchuck grew to the size of a human himself though he still remained snagged.
When the man came out of the brush Woodchuck saw he was a local farmer a short wiry man in a cap advertising a brand of tractor.
Seems like you’ve got yourself caught up there good he said.
The man bent quickly down to Woodchuck’s feet and in no time at all the vines seemed to release themselves and Woodchuck was free.
Local knowledge said the man nodding to Woodchuck.
Woodchuck looked in his bag for something to offer the farmer and pulled out an apple and held it to him.
The man’s eyes flashed at Woodchuck a moment.
I got something better than that if you’re thinking of a meal as it was toward the end of the day.
Why don’t you join me and my family for dinner?
We’ll walk up the way past the church said the man.
The farmer went ahead and Woodchuck followed him.
They had walked about a half-mile when Woodchuck stepped in a rope trap and was hoisted up above the ground by his feet.
There’s your apple stranger cackled the farmer and he threw a lasso that caught Woodchuck around both elbows.
He wound Woodchuck around with rope tightening the final loop around him and tying it off securely at the end.
When Woodchuck was immobilized the farmer cut him down from the tree and pulled him along with a rope at his heels.
Woodchuck’s head and back both took a beating from the rocks fallen timber and uneven ground.
The farmer dragged Woodchuck roughly a mile along the forest bed to a wagon then hoisted him up atop a load of firewood.
The farmer went away a moment and came back on a tractor to which he hitched the wagon.
Without any extra words he pulled the wagon around the back of a large barn then reversed the tractor to push the wagon up to a cellar door.
As he came around to upend the load all Woodchuck could do from atop the pile of wood was watch.
Woodchuck tumbled out with the cartload of wood ass over teakettle down a chute into a dark basement chunks of wood smashing his face and sides as he landed on the dirt floor rope-bound small logs half-pinning him.
The cords around him were tight and Woodchuck could breathe but was otherwise stuck.
The man reappeared a few moments later within the basement from the other side.
Where’s your apple now fella he derided Woodchuck.
You’re lucky I don’t just take you right here.
The farmer fingered something that bulged in his pocket cocked the hammer then released it.
But it’s the luck of the devil and it ain’t gonna last.
The farmer turned and left Woodchuck there.
It began to grow dark.
Woodchuck waited until the night was its deepest then restored himself to the size of the people who tell his stories.
The ropes loosened.
He began to move the chopped wood off himself heaving it some distance away though we can only speculate as to the amount removed by this method.
Soon he was free.
He dug himself out through the basement floor and made his way outside.
He continued on his way at a faster pace than before to put some distance between himself and the evil farmer.
By dawn he was worn out limping along through the woods exhausted.
He lay down for just a moment but must have fallen asleep because when Woodchuck woke another human stood over him.
Hello stranger said this second human.
Though this man had a more benign aspect the resemblance between him and the other was close enough to make Woodchuck edge away but the human stopped him with his kind voice.
Hold on there he said.
There’s good enough reason for us to fear each other on this earth but there’s just as much reason for us to trust in the good of our fellows.
I’ve no doubt seeing you in your roughed up condition that you must have run into my brother and maybe even been caught up in his traps.
If this is so count yourself lucky because not many escape his grasp.
My brother is a bitter man said the human sadly.
But don’t let it color your world friend.
Come with me.
I’ll let you rest up a bit feed you some and give you an honest day’s work.
My brother don’t like your kind but I like to live with my fellow creatures on this earth.
Your kind is quite good at digging holes.
I can use your help.
Come dig some holes for a pole barn I’m putting in.
You can rest up this morning do the work in the afternoon get a good meal and a good night’s sleep and tomorrow be off on your way.
When a traveler who has been dragged along a path and dumped in a pile of wood receives the offer of a bed for the night no matter what else his suspicions he may wish to believe the best.
But this alone did not entirely explain why standing up fully Woodchuck now is said to have felt his legs shudder in a release of sudden and marvelous pleasure.
There’s just one thing you have to promise me though said the farmer.
I have a beautiful daughter.
She is of marriageable age but means the whole world to me.
On the subject of her alone you will find me inflexible.
I lost my wife some years ago and so have raised her myself.
She is my light and my greatest achievement.
I call her Lucinda she of the light.
She shall not know a man or of the ways of the flesh until I see fit to adopt a receptive attitude toward a potential suitor and I have no inclinations in that way at present nor for the foreseeable future if you may understand me here man to man.
The man smiled again beneficently.
My daughter Lucinda has every pleasure at her disposal.
She does only the work she wants to do and is in that office generally very industrious and not bound to any duty by conscription.
She has the run of my grounds which like those of my brother are quite expansive.
Her friends from school stay on for several days at a time with her indulging in ladylike pursuits.
She has freedom to read in my extensive library.
She can want no more than this.
I have shielded her eyes even from the uncouth things one may see from day to day on any farm of the animals’ behavior with the other animals.
She is thus purer and more innocent than the lamb.
The people who tell these stories say Woodchuck now shuddered a second time a feeling of ecstasy coursing through him.
This time the good farmer himself took notice of Woodchuck’s faltering which he took for fatigue.
But as we understand each other he said Come I have talked your ear off all too long.
I must tell you said the farmer looking for a moment at Woodchuck strangely I have an uncanny feeling that you are someone I have heard tell of and should know.
But there will be time for talk later.
Let us go.
Woodchuck went behind the good farmer.
On Woodchuck’s hip was his bag and inside the bag were the remains of the box that held Woodchuck’s penis smashed in the previous evening’s avalanche of firewood.
The penis had been missing ever since.
Woodchuck was likely concerned about what he would find when they arrived at the home of the good farmer and his beautiful daughter.
Yet all seemed well when they arrived at their farm a bright and cheerful not overlarge farmhouse with coops a barn and building materials stacked nearby.
In a household apron Lucinda bounced out of the farmhouse vivaciously and kissed her father on the cheek.
Her father introduced Woodchuck.
Our friend here is slow of tongue but he has a hard lot in the world and would like to have his faith restored in the goodness of folk.
Then we will do our best to treat him kindly and give him the best of what we humbly may offer said Lucinda brightly.
She took Woodchuck by the arm.
We should let him rest until I need him this afternoon.
He has offered us some of his labor.
Oh father pouted Lucinda playfully Must you exact services from every visitor?
Wholesome labor is ever an opportunity and a benefit my daughter said the farmer And the honest man gives thanks for it.
Lucinda conducted Woodchuck indoors.
She was even more beautiful than the good farmer had described with luscious dark hair and pleasant roundings above and below.
She brought Woodchuck through the kitchen and down a dark interior hallway and stopped halfway to come face to face.
So said Lucinda now that they were alone You are the one.
I was startled this morning she continued When I was awakened in my chamber by a strange and intense sensation.
It was uncomfortable at first but then as it continued tenderly it challenged me to find my own rhythm within what I started to feel was being required of me.
The second time I was more prepared and opened myself to the feeling entirely which swept through me like a tide and offered me a wealth within my own being that I had heretofore never known existed.
I know now the pleasures I have always been kept from knowing as well as why because they have changed every aspect of how I view my life.
I want to know such pleasures all of my days.
I want to be taken from this place of lies and half-truths.
I am yours said Lucinda Forever.
She embraced Woodchuck passionately.
Forever she said again.
Let us pass the early evening in this house but before dawn I wish you to take me away and let me know all of what you wish to teach me and make mine.
I resign everything to you.
Lucinda stood away from Woodchuck a moment then swooned.
Woodchuck caught her in his arms.
Just then the good farmer burst through a door in the ceiling above Woodchuck as he held Lucinda.
In swift movements the farmer pulled his daughter away from Woodchuck with one arm and with the other slid back a panel in the wall.
Here he yanked a leather handle that released the floor beneath Woodchuck.
Woodchuck fell down a shaft into a deep enclosure lined with stone like a cistern.
In a heap at the bottom Woodchuck saw the farmer call down to him from above.
He waved a firearm.
I have heard what passed between you yelled the farmer over the wails of his daughter.
Did you think me such a fool he said gesturing with the gun That I would allow you to spend even an unguarded minute alone with my greatest treasure?
The farmer admired his having bested Woodchuck and held his arms wide framed in the square of light above Woodchuck’s head.
This is a wonderful house is it not?
But you have not seen much of it.
The rest has many of the same features you have already observed.
Unlike the basement from which you escaped last night this house I designed myself on the sturdy foundation of a castle that once stood on this spot.
While maintaining a humble visage this house is a marvel of engineering.
Beneath the rooms and in the walls and ceilings run gears and spans hinges and pulleys ropes and chains and cables that connect the house’s different functions to each other.
In the kitchen I can engage with hand-cranks the furniture in the parlor to employ unseen leg shackles or the chimney to topple on an unwitting bystander on the garden path below.
It is booby-trapped throughout to prevent and contain intruders.
The good farmer restored the tractor cap Woodchuck had seen on his head the previous day and Woodchuck was apprised of the full extent of the illusion.
The two farmers were one and the same.
This is the last we shall ever look upon one another said the farmer.
He sighted Woodchuck down the barrel of the gun then pulled it back.
The farmer sneered.
This is now your home you to whom I offered kindness and honest work and was repaid with heinousness.
My daughter did speak one thing correctly said the farmer.
She said forever and this is how it will be for you.
The door was pulled closed over Woodchuck’s head.
Woodchuck of course was not able to be entirely trapped by a mere human.
His magic was too great.
At the same time for some moments he was at a loss to come up with a plan to escape.
He was accustomed to thinking very clearly in moments like this one when his penis wasn’t with him clouding his vision.
He hunched down on the floor of the cistern.
Sniffing around he found his penis shriveled like a beanbag in a corner of the cell.
It was chafed and sore but in such condition not entirely as the result of mistreatment.
Woodchuck lay back for a moment to savor being reunited with his penis.
He fell asleep.
He had been reclining for an hour or two in this attitude when he was awakened by an insect or as it happened a myriapod crawling across his nose.
Fancy seeing you here said Centipede and when Woodchuck swatted at him he scuttled behind Woodchuck’s neck and down his back.
Centipede took Woodchuck for an ordinary one of the people and didn’t know about his magic.
Well mister said Centipede reaching one of the stone walls of the cell Now the tables have turned.
Many’s the time when I have just been minding my own business in the ground when all of a sudden you come along and throw my whole house and family into the air.
We start again and get comfortable continued Centipede And some time goes by and then wham there you are again throwing the ground all over the place in your tunneling without a care for anyone else who might live there.
Well what do we have now?
Woodchuck’s eyes adjusted to the light.
Centipede now perched himself in a crevice between two stones at Woodchuck’s eye level.
I am small and flexible and tough enough said Centipede To crawl between the crevices of these walls where only droplets of water seep through.
You on the other hand can’t move.
Farmer usually traps people in order to get some work out of them.
He’ll keep someone a certain amount of time until the person has worked off his debt and then he’ll trap another one and do the same.
He doesn’t usually kill people though he loves to wave that gun around.
But no one said Centipede Has ever done what you’ve done with his daughter.
I would take him at his word.
I don’t see you ever leaving this place said Centipede.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
I on the other hand can pass in and out can check on you and then leave marking your deterioration and enjoying freedoms that you will never see again.
You are chuckled Centipede In a sense my prisoner.
So angered we are told was Woodchuck at the haughtiness of Centipede that he shrunk himself down to Centipede’s size and immediately gave chase.
This was the last thing Centipede expected and he took off as fast as his dozens of legs could carry him.
Woodchuck chased Centipede through the tiny crevice and through the tight passageways of flaws in the mortar across one long face of stone then turned at the far end of the first stone and chased further.
Woodchuck’s anger greater than anyone could ever recall was a reflection not just of Centipede’s insult but of Woodchuck’s predicament in general so that he kept going farther and deeper after the myriapod heedlessly.
Then after some time it was apparent to Woodchuck that this hadn’t necessarily been the best method of escape from his enclosure.
His penis was with him and this always prevented him from thinking as clearly as he might otherwise have done.
Both Woodchuck and his penis were tiny creatures encased within thick walls of rock for the farmer had not lied the cistern was in the foundation comprised of massively thick stone piled upon and wedged next to stone and seemingly endless.
In his anger at Centipede Woodchuck had followed Centipede’s zigzag route through the crevices constantly turning and wriggling through tiny passages of the sort water might slowly seep through and he had lost all sense of direction.
Woodchuck had no idea which way to turn to get out of the puzzle of wall stones nor even which way was up or down.
The chase after Centipede and Woodchuck’s subsequent wandering extended for many years.
The people say that Woodchuck had lost the trail of Centipede quite a long time before he was actually willing to accept this truth of his fate.
He kept wandering trying one direction then another getting himself accidentally turned around reversing himself and trying again and never thinking very clearly.
He would stop and wait from time to time perhaps in silent vigil for some lost guidestar of vision.
Then he would start again.
This went on and on.
He lost all of his hair and then it all grew back finer and lighter and he lost it all again and it grew back even finer and lighter still.
He went blind for a time and deaf for a time and then had both of these senses restored.
He heard the silence become a soft and then a deafening roar and then in time again subside.
He was completely stuck wedged in rock and muck at one point for an entire month or a month it might have seemed to him though it had been much shorter or maybe longer and then one day he was free again and continued turning and searching.
Then one day at long last as if called forth by some influence beyond himself suddenly discovered and obeyed he poked up from between some foundation stones into the underside of the farmhouse floorboards.
From there it was not long before he sprang up in the main living quarters.
He had to blink and shield his eyes at first it had been so many years since sunlight had been anywhere near.
He remembered well how he had gotten into his predicament so he did not immediately return to normal size but stayed small so he could evaluate his situation and not go blundering again into the hands of Farmer who twice had bested him.
Woodchuck began to advance until at length he reached a long hallway the hallway where he had long before fallen through the trap door.
Now he approached from the other direction from within the house rather than from outside.
Suddenly there was a commotion that reached the outside doorway and rushed in toward him.
Woodchuck shrunk into the crevice in the floor molding and saw two of his own people a lithe brown girl running up the hallway followed in hot pursuit by a slightly burlier boy of the same age who was her twin in every other respect of face fur and feature.
They careened past Woodchuck’s tiny vantage point.
Woodchuck it is said at this point could not help himself.
He jumped out into the hallway to look at them assuming his normal size.
The children aware of his presence turned around at the end of the hallway.
An intruder shrieked the girl.
A prisoner screamed the boy delighted.
The children leapt at once for the wall with the trap door handle.
Woodchuck again felt the trap open beneath his feet.
But he had learned from his years in the rocks with Centipede the art of making one’s feet stick to the surface with which they were in contact.
The door swung open and Woodchuck swung down with it hanging just beneath the floor unseen from above.
The sound of an adult’s footsteps were heard coming into the hallway.
Now sounded a woman’s voice playfully Who have you caught this time?
Woodchuck recognized the voice from years before.
He reached up to where the door hinged to the floor and like Errol Flynn sprung up in a backwards somersault onto his feet before the woman and her children.
The woman was of course the children’s mother Lucinda.
Children she said Go outside to the arbor and fetch your grandfather.
But Farmer was already there on the other side of Woodchuck his instincts for knowing when a stranger was present not having diminished.
Nevertheless the man himself was now old and shrunken.
The tractor cap hung to one side his head dwarfed beneath it.
Gone was Farmer’s ability to transform from one visage to another or into anything from what faded he and hollow-eyed he now was.
Lucinda spoke instead.
Woodchuck she said.
I knew one day you would return to my bidding.
I see you have already met your children.
Children introduce yourselves she said to the two who bore the likeness of their father.
I am Woodchuck said the boy.
I am Woodchuck said the girl.
I named them both after you said Lucinda.
There was a time when I was ready to go away with you and part of me still loves you and the adventures I have never had.
I once so longed to leave this place.
I knew from the books I had read in the library that the destiny that yawned before me was to grow old and stay alone like Miss Emily Grierson in the house of her father.
But I was not going to let Farmer break me ending my days sleeping with the corpse of a trapped suitor.
So when I had a chance to take you as a lover I did.
You are a wanderer and I loved that though now for so many years we have taken that from you.
We have taken such freedoms from each other but you have also given me my greatest joy.
Two great joys!
Woodchuck turned to Farmer and saw him mouthing words.
His ancient pale lips and skin were slack and papery.
Father no longer runs the farm said Lucinda.
Now it is mine to run.
We will part friends.
I do not keep prisoners here anymore though I let the children play at the game.
Children will be children and while I have childproofed the house somewhat I could hardly deny them the freedom to play games in their own home.
In any case I understand at this point you may not believe any word that passes from the lips of this family so I will simply leave you your freedom.
Father she said Take the children out with you to the arbor.
The two obeyed stepping their four legs each around the open trap door and following limping old Farmer.
You may leave if you wish she said to Woodchuck Part of yourself with me for a while the part of you I knew best.
Indeed she said Knowing you as I do I imagine I already know where I might find him.
These two said Lucinda in the direction of the children who had gone outside Could use a brother or sister.
This place needs to be freed of always being halved this way or that way one or the other this one against that one.
I have charted my cycle and tonight is again auspicious and my body can’t be helped from having called out.
But I know this new beginning is also the end of our time together she said.
I know you always want to keep moving.
Please she said I won’t detain you.
Lucinda turned back to the interior of the house.
Woodchuck’s eyes followed her closely as she receded his eyes locked on the peasant skirt swaying with the movements of her round milfy ass.
As she left his sight Woodchuck looked in the travel bag that had been slung over his shoulder all this time capable by his magic of changing both its own size and that of its contents in any emergency.
He saw within the old splinters of the box and that his penis had already gone as Lucinda guessed.
He found before he left the great house a woodshop in the basement.
He cobbled the box back together.
The penis joined him by morning of the following day.
As he traveled his children stood up and ducked down playfully in the fields around him.
Woodchuck again was among the people whom he had never entirely left.
Ted Pelton has been writing a novel-in-stories about a woodchuck for roughly eight years; many of these have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail. A recipient of Isherwood and NEA fellowships in fiction, Pelton’s previous books include Bartleby, the Sportscaster (Subito), Bhang (BlazeVox), and Malcolm & Jack (and Other American Criminals) (Spuyten Duyvil). He also founded and directed for fifteen years the influential fiction press, Starcherone Books. This past summer he began as Chair of the English department at Tennessee Tech University.
I find the idea that we write alone laughable, even egotistical. Poetry is a palimpsest that has been endlessly rewritten—it’s a social space we share with others.