Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ox Bells and Fireflies

It’s the sort of title you'd expect on a volume of verse, and therefore doubly appropriate as many of the 21 pieces are filled with lyrical prose and tagged with similar names:

Wicks and Cups
Fireflies and Freedom
Drop Mail and Diplomats
Soft Soap and Drawknives
Plow, Scythe, and Peavey
Wildcats, Tetrazzini, and Bee Beer

They present an idealized picture of farming and village life in the Annapolis Valley when oxen were still being used to plough fields.

Together they make up a nostalgic album of memories related in a way that is often dreamy and impressionistic:

The ground has been ribboned into dark furrows. They lie like brothers side by side, the earth's rich secrets exposed willingly to the sun.

In several pieces the language is a little less poetic in order to accommodate the more traditional shape of a story, while others move into Leacock territory with folksy accounts of how people act at election time or on wedding nights.

The affectionate parade of rustic characters includes a woman "violently allergic to horse farts" and another who "sounds like a bee under a cup." One tardy fellow was "always behind, like a boar's nuts," while another "ate fried bullfrogs to deepen his voice," and a third "said 'Good Morning' to any cow he passed."

Sex is "a blend of comedy and sheet lightning." Oxen "rise like prophecies" and plant "their great slow feet like sorrows." A pig has "moneylender eyes" and hens rustle "their cuneiform feet in the straw."

There are also moments of grief and misfortune, but they only serve to bind people closer together, as in the wonderful opening story, "Seven Crows a Secret," in which a young boy observes how the death of a neighbour brings out a touching tenderness in his parents.

The author, Ernest Buckler, referred to the book as a "fictional memoir." It was published in 1968.