In the Hole
I had time and a shovel. I began to dig.
There is always something a man can use a hole for.
Everyone on the street stopped by. My neighbors
are purposeful about the holes in their lives.
All of them wanted to know what mine was for.
Briggs asked me at ten when it was for the smell
of new-turned sod. Ponti asked at eleven
when it was for the sweat I was working up.
Billy LaDue came by from school at one
when it was for the fishing worms he harvested.
My wife sniffed in from the Protestant ethic at four
when the hole was for finding out if I could make
a yard an hour. A little after five
a squad car stopped and Brewster Diffenbach,
pink and ridiculous in his policeman suit,
asked if I had a building permit. I told him
to run along till he saw me building something.
He told me I wasn’t being cooperative.
I thanked him for noticing and invited him
to try holding his breath till he saw me change.
I ate dinner sitting on its edge. My wife
sniffed it out to me and sniffed away.
She has her ways but qualifies — how shall I say? —
alternatively. I’d make it up to her later.
At the moment I had caught the rhythm of digging.
I rigged lights and went on with it. It smelled
like the cellar of the dew factory. Astonishing
how much sky good soil swallows. By ten-thirty
I was thinking of making a bed of boughs at the bottom
and sleeping there. I think I might have wakened
as whatever I had really meant to be once.
I could have slept that close to it. But my wife
came out to say nothing whatever, so I showered
and slept at her side after making it up to her
as best I could, and not at all bad either.
By morning the hole had shut. It had even
sodded itself over. I suspect my neighbors.
I suspect Diffenbach and law and order.
I suspect most purposes and everyone’s
forever insistence I keep mine explainable.
I wish now I had slept in my hole when I had it.
I would have made it up to my wife later.
Had I climbed out as I had meant to be —
really meant to be — I might have really
made it up to her. I might have unsniffed her
clear back to dew line, back to how it was
when the earth opened by itself and we
were bared roots. — Well, I’d had the exercise.
God knows I needed it and the ache after
to sing my body to sleep where I remembered.
And there was a purpose. This is my last house.
If all goes well, it’s here I mean to die.
I want to know what’s under it. One foot more
might have hit stone and stopped me, but I doubt it.
Sand from an old sea bottom is more likely.
Or my fossil father. Or a bud rosary.
Or the eyes of the dog I buried south of Jerusalem
to hide its bones from the Romans. Purpose
is that a man uncovers by digging for it.
Damn my neighbors, Damn Brewster Diffenbach.
John Ciardi, The Little That Is All, 1974