Old Farmer

Inspired by the August Sander photograph, "Old Farmer (1931-1932)."

 The old farmer holds a cane in each hand and hunches forward only slightly. Knees bent, back round, he rests his weight into the narrow, knotted canes rising from the ground. They are sure-footed, sturdy. Beneath his fingers, the canes wilt, curving sharply at one end, as the old farmer pauses in the center of the empty dirt road. The old farmer wears a cap and a scarf and a jacket. It is cold. The jacket is ripped just below the left elbow. Is *he* cold? A thin patch of white hair peaks out from under the cap, and a beard clings to his chin and his cheeks and his face. Behind the old farmer, unkempt bushes and brambles grow unchecked alongside a white picket fence. Beyond the fence, farmhouses settle into the dirt and the sky. This old farmer has not reached these farmhouses yet. He is walking along the dirt road when he pauses and glances down the path behind him where he is met by a man and a camera. The old farmer locks eyes with the man, staring into the camera, and their moment of awareness is immortalized.

 When I look at the image of this old farmer, awareness does not come. I want to lock eyes with him, to hold his gaze and say, “Old man, do I know you?” But the old man does not hear my question. I cover his eyes with my hand, so I can only see his mouth. Thin lips, barely parted, begin to whisper from the photo, but I cannot make out words. “Tell me, old man, what do you know?” I reply, but his whispers grow faint, and I gently slide my hand across his lips. With a hidden mouth, his eyes cry out. Those faint, stifled whispers turn to screams. The sudden noise, the panic caught in shrieks, shocks my fingers, and I draw my hand from his face. “Old man, please let me help you!”

 The old farmer is silent. I cannot hear his whispers or his screams. I do not try to catch his gaze again. Once more, I notice the tear in his jacket. His hands seem to shake as they clutch the canes. “Come,” I whisper to the man, “let’s go inside. There’s a blanket and a chair. I’ll light a fire, if you’d like. I’m so sorry that you’re so cold.”