Mrs. Butterworth stands on the windowsill
of the Christianson Ranch shack, whose door
stands agape with the hasp-screws rotted out.
A decade or more of aspen leaves drift
over the stain-planked floor while squirrel
and packrat scat heaps in random corners.
A pair of dark and stiffened bunks are draped
in pelts that might be cured, or simply dead.
Outside in frigid air, a sentinel Coldspot
stands abreast two rusting propane tanks,
the western wall clad in crumbling schisted felt.
Brambled wire barbs trail the erstwhile fence.
I espied her by the ragged, gauzy curtain.
She is tall, familiar, brown, and elegant—
but paper skin upon her back is bleached
beyond deciphering from year upon year
of ill-advised exposure to Methow suns,
a secret and deliberate legend effaced.
In places, the ravages of mites and molds
lend an appearance of incipient leprosy.
The faded yellow cap atop her bunned head
disturbingly reads, “BEST BEFORE 06-18-80″—
which describes you, too, in spite of youth,
of the ramshackle cabin called your life,
of shoulders slumped and abuse endured.
Up front she is still full and dark and sweet;
her arms circle beneath a generous bosom,
delicate hands folded atop the warming waist
of a red and green embellished paper apron—
“THICK ‘N RICH,” with “GRADE A BUTTER!”
This well-preserved matron recalls little
of the hidden, silent, damaged girl behind,
the other side of so much distant sweetness.
She has been smiling now for forty years,
as the miss who wished and longed to expire
instead “dated,” exposed, and dated again.
To be generous, the years have been unkind.
I take the missus in hand and doff her cap,
in reverence empty her of false cordiality,
every ounce of goodness now grown bitter,
every minute bit of our days, and yours,
pouring all past caring and stolid presence
into the gathering Poorman Creek dust.
In 2020 hindsight now she sees
the girl who once she was—that still she is.
I place her back upon the sill, face out now,
a ruddy sun falling upon her smiling cheek
upon which rests a drop of syruped liquid,
doubtless more my doing than hers.
You are right to ask if I have trespassed.
Rotten-hasp screws are as good as “Keep Out,”
and trailing barbs as clear as any barrier.
But that girl’s aged and windowed shoulders
belie the warnings, signs, and wondering.
I take my leave, not sure I ought look back;
I’d see a drop yet upon the missus’ cheek,
light pellucid in the brownness of her eye,
clarity undimmed by that murky cabin pane.