The hog farmer is grindstone apples, seek-no-furthers, he is primrose balm, mayhaw and sorrel and scuppernong butters, he is carved corn-knife handles and stocking stretchers and tiny mounted soldiers: anything that he can load onto the strawberry roan and sell in the river hamlets, at the crossroads stores.
The hog farmer is the roasting ears his wife blows silk from, shells into the iron wash pot and boils with soda and lye. He is the sorry grains and chaffy kernels, witched butter and good scraps that she sets aside for their hogs because she has a wide, wide love that spreads over their animals too. A sloppy love, a prodigal love. He is the anger that pricks him when he sees his wife on a stroll and thinks she’s too carefree, the queasiness that rises in him when he sees that she’s dug yellow clay from wheel ruts, yellow clay from the creek-banks where wild ginger grows, yellow clay she will sing over while she forms it into diamonds and birds and moons. He is gladness laced with worry when he sees his wife easing her way home from the creek with a bowl of yellow clay, slow-moving and big with their fourth child.
He is the walleye that slips his boy Spencer’s hook, or more likely the walleye that Spencer lets go, tender-hearted and headstrong Spencer who won’t learn to hunt and has been known to faint if he sees a drop of blood. He is the persimmon tree his boy Nathaniel can’t stay away from, its branches damaged from bending, its unripe fruit that Nathaniel crams into his mouth, eats and eats until he vomits. He is the crooked furrows his boy Malachi plows (the furrows he has to re-plow), the throw-sack of manure Malachi wastes too much of when he scatters it over the hills of corn.
The hog farmer is the desperate gnaw of never enough, of greedy hands that grab and hold tight, of his tired and aching body that must always work more. He is the fear that his boys will stay stuck in their troublesome ways, no matter how he tries to train them, bridle them, the fear that they will not grow. He is the dream of a snake in the chicken house, blackbirds in the corn, fire in the hay barn.
His wife is bread cast upon the waters, she is salt-rising dough and angel flake biscuits she gives away. She is the rafters and the pie safe and the root cellar that store the things she hands to anyone in need. She is a string of leather apples, a bag of shucked beans, a platter, a burlap sack she’s happy to share. She is a plain cotton dress dyed in pokeweed tea.
When the baby in her belly kicks her ribs, she takes a deep breath, and she is the calm green waters of a still pond that’s receding each year. She’s past forty, thought her childbearing years were far behind her, and she feels like a strange miracle has made itself in her body, has nested there. Sometimes she shudders at the mystery of it, sometimes she laughs.
When old Lacy Anne Boggs shouts through the window, asking to borrow a cup of flour, she gives her a two-pound sack.
The hog farmer is thirty acres on the ridge above Ivydale and Morocco, he is the gravel lane, the ruts. He is the rocky hill field in the shadow of Velvet Knob. He is the creek that tumbles through the woods, and meanders, and feeds the Elk River. He is the chicken coop, the speckled eggs, he is Berkshire hogs rooting in the woods. He is the pierced neck vein, the scalding place, the gambling stick. He is shoulders and middlings and legs that he salts in the meat box and hangs in the smokehouse in March, he is sausage meat packed in corn shucks and white cloth sacks. He is the cornfield, the garden, two kinds of potatoes: Irish and sweet.