Rupert Fike

Slab Shack

        —Tennessee, 1973

When the mice started running relays,
squeaking alarms with babies in their mouths,
we knew a snake was again in the house
that wasn’t much of a house at all,
just some salvaged tin nailed over walls
formed from vertical planks of bark, slab wood,
first cuts off logs at our neighbor’s sawmill.
His pile was free for the taking except
you had to watch out on the shifting mound,
and you had to state your intended use,
words you regretted once they left your mouth,
once Homer Sanders repeated, Build a House?
as though he had maybe heard you wrong.
Firewood was the one correct answer.

The slab dropped its bark that first winter,
revealing a food-chain habitat where
lower-caste insects thrived then attracted
woodpeckers banging out entry holes
perfect for field mice who had sniffed out
a hippie kitchen where grain was stored in bags,
where Tupperware was frowned upon,
where even Siddhartha's spine had been gnawed
by creatures intent on nesting scraps.
We set no traps for they were sentient beings,
due Buddha’s unwavering compassion
same as the silent black racer making
its rounds to swallow small warm bodies
while we, the large bodies who could easily
have put a hoe through its head, refrained
not so much in deference to the teachings,
but because we were standing on the bed.
Rupert & Kathy Fike
The Farm
Summertown, Tennessee
Spring 1973

Photo by Charles Ewing

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