Poems by Anne Whitehouse

“123 Home Free”
             By Anne Whitehouse

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
             -Psalm 23
In the Swiss Alps, once upon
a time, there lived a goatherd
without family as far as anyone knew.
Whenever a window got broken,
or a horse went lame, Peter was
the culprit blamed by the townsfolk.

Peter was happiest with his goats,
climbing rocky paths to alpine meadows.
A glow lingered in the sky behind
the mountain peaks, as the sun slipped
towards the hidden horizon,
and even in July the air turned cold.

Peter called the herd with his horn,
leading them up the mountain by day
and down to safety at night.
The goats, fed on wildflowers,
gave milk that made a delicate cheese.
One hundred fifty years later,
Aaron Fletcher lives
off gleanings of the land
in Ashland, Oregon,
with his small flock.

He started with goats
but switched to sheep
for their sweeter milk
and their gift of wool.

He calls himself
“homeless by choice,”
but he has a tiny home
mounted on a bicycle cart.
It looks ramshackle,
yet every inch is planned.

A folding awning protects
the sheep in rainy weather.
There is water storage,
a solar oven, a condensing refrigerator,
a trough of red worms
to compost his waste.
He felts fleece into wool
in a cardboard box
and sews his clothes.
He makes old tires into sandals.

Milk and cheese from his ewes
form the basis of his diet,
supplemented by foraged plants,
dumpster diving, and donations.
He grinds wild seeds for flour
and bakes bread laced with herbs.

His sheep are adoptions or trades.
Their needs determine his daily routine.
He finds them nutritious grasses
and trees with fruits and nuts.
He tends their wounds, guards their health,
and keeps them safe from harm.
In turn, they clothe and feed him.

He calls himself a “community
prepper” with minimal participation
in the market economy
and claims to have found
a way to live off the land
without harming it.

Sometimes he trades work
for the right to shelter
and forage on private property.
Though he talks about his friends,
he always seems to be alone
except for the sheep,
his constant companions.
He knows their personalities
and calls them by name.

People he calls friends allow him
to use their land for grazing
and shelter and give him food,
but they rarely share his company.

Does Aaron represent the vanguard
or the rearguard? With his bristling beard,
unkempt hair, and bushy eyebrows,
he resembles a prophet of old,
his narrow blue eyes glinting
like ice or fire, as he condemns
the hypocrisy of almost everyone,
his speech spiked with obscenity.

But on stony journeys with his sheep
at the highway’s edge, under blazing skies,
he croons them wordless songs of comfort.

NB: “123 Home Free” was inspired by the novel Heidi by Johanna Spyri and by Aaron Fletcher, who recounts his experiences on his YouTube channel.

“Pond Lives”
             By Anne Whitehouse

One autumn morning
after we bought our land,
I saw dead plants and detritus
floating on the surface of the pond.
I thought someone had sprayed
the water with herbicide.

But it was a natural process.
Cooling water at the surface
grew denser and heavier,
sinking towards the bottom,
and the warmer water below
rose to the top.

The decomposing matter
floating on the surface
emerged from the bottom,
where organisms live off the waste
of fungi, bacteria, and worms.
The autumn winds and rains
mixed up layers of water
that summer had stratified.

As I paddled the canoe,
glimpses of aquatic life
beckoned below me:
a flash of a fish disappearing
in a ruffle of waving weeds,
a turtle paddling towards a log,
snakes, worms, and crabs scuttling
into the rich murk.

In the first week of winter
we watched thousands of geese
whirling and landing and settling,
then flying up again
in great flocks.

At the turn of the year,
deep cold set in.
Under a shroud of ice,
the pond lay sleeping.

From the depths
of hibernation
came the birth
of spring’s desire,
sprouting slowly,
yearning upwards
towards spreading
light and warmth.

Summer’s invasion of green
occupied pondscape
and landscape.
I swam over rough weeds,
submerged and free-floating,
yet close enough to scratch my skin.

There was coontail and bladderwort,
pondweed and milfoil.
Growing along the surface
were waterlilies and duckweed.

I reached deep water and swam free.
On a dock in the middle of the pond,
two teenagers invited me to join them.
I climbed up the ladder
and sat down beside them.
They were brother and sister.

The dock felt rough
against my wet bathing suit,
as I lay warming in the sun
after the cool water.
I closed my eyes
and let my mind drift.

- Anne Whitehouse’s poetry collections include THE SURVEYOR’S HAND, BLESSINGS AND CURSES, THE REFRAIN, METEOR SHOWER, and OUTSIDE FROM THE INSIDE, the last three from Dos Madres Press. She is the author of a novel, FALL LOVE. She has published essays and lectured on Longfellow and Poe. Her chapbook, FRIDA, about Frida Kahlo, is forthcoming from Ethel Zine and Micro Press. She is from Birmingham, Alabama, and lives in New York City and Columbia County, New York.

Copyright©2022 by Anne Whitehouse. All Rights Reserved.