forty acres

forty acres


“Forty acres” – he said it like it was a million, million dollars…or stars.  Finally, my father owned a plot or two of land like his father and his father and his father did so far back, no one knows how to get the sweat stains and dirt out of our DNA.


Our forty acres, Northern Alberta – sentinel stands of poplar and birch, flooded every spring by beaver and frozen every winter by the coldest winds I have never been prouder to survive.  Forty acres of trees and tough grasses so sharp as to cut through skin bared to summer sun in cut offs or bathing suit bottoms from the Sears catalogue – never quite getting what you thought you ordered.


Those forty acres were my proving ground – they took my femaleness and my virginity –

proved to me I could be anything I wanted to be – I could be the son my father wanted, high a top the bales of hay I helped throw with the men in my family.  I could be a poet, gazing at the rippling Northern Lights on clear, February nights. Wishing by crisp, moonlit December darkness beside my Sheltie Lobo; perched on the pile of fence posts, wishing I could be just pretty enough for that boy in school – for anyone…the nameless, faceless hoards of possible young lovers I thought I wanted.  I could be broken hearted and torn apart from all I thought I needed and come back together in splendid fashion when someone else needed the tears I so wanted to spill for myself.


Those forty acres rooted me – the only stability I had in a nomadic existence driven by the boom and bust ebb and flow of the construction business.  Maybe that’s why he said “Forty Acres” the way he did.  Maybe it meant the same to him as it does to me.  Maybe he felt the roots, smelled the sweat, and knew there was something in this black earth that made us grow, too.  Maybe it was his proving ground, too – that he could manage a farm, too…like his father and his father and his father so far back no one knows how to get the love of sun-burning skin and the smell of wet soil out of our DNA.  Maybe for him, too it was solitude and peace and the comfort of feeling your body firm and full against the strain of work and weather and the will to be more than the city made us be: soft and weak and lonely.


Forty acres, hoe in hand, mucking stalls, greeting sun rises from barn yards with the reverence of a priest; learning the value of life, death, and sacrifice at harvest and butchering time.  Honouring all beast and plant sacrificed to our bodies.  I became strong and proud. Sun kissed and frostbitten on those forty acres.  I became the best man for the job when none were around.  And I learned that I was more than my femaleness; my wicked body that betrayed me to those who would harm me.  I became a poet. A lover. A warrior – plugged into the Earth so deep as to feel the centre of it on my toes.


“Forty Acres.”  The song of freedom in every shaking leaf or clattering, ice covered, frozen branch.  Forty acres of me and my dog by moonlight where I learned who I am – where roots ran deeper than memory and sunshine or wet earth or dust taught me the songs of my ancestors so far back, no one knows the language of the dirt and sweat stains in our DNA.


R.L. Elke

© Aug 5/17  prompt 5



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