The Frost Line


by Shawn Keller

Artwork, “Joan of Arc from the Church of St John The Divine Manhattan” by Howard Skrill

I never saw any children there, just the two of them
already old when I was young, a sliver of wood
smoke from a chimney in winter, and in the summer a collection
of farming artifacts, car parts, windows, screen doors
tires and rotting pallets.
The hoarded effluvia of a life close to the edge of the wolf
at the door, a transmittal from the
nineteenth century, these two, atop the hill.
Where have they all gone? These mudsills, these clay-eaters,
these hillbillies, these rednecks?
This white trash?
They roamed the landscape of a Maine past, a bison herd
of humanity, filling in every crack of this rocky,
worthless Earth, marginal people pulling life from
marginal soil.
And they are dying. This is an extinction event.

The Germans called it the “Völkerwanderung“, the Greco-Romans simply
the Barbarian Invasions, but what you need know is
that the Earth was cooling, the Rhine froze solid, and Alaric
stood in Rome.
Call it the frost line.
The edge of winter travelling ever south, each season pushing
further, across the British Isles and Scandinavia, and into central
Europe, like the water edge as the tide comes in.
And in front, a storm surge of humanity, picked up like
chaff, and flung to the south. The Romans didn’t know what
to do with these climate change refugees, these Visigoths,
so she ceded the dream that was Rome.
The Pax Romana broke apart,
overwhelmed by these additions. Europe stumbled into the Dark Ages,
not to recover for another 600 years.
When the Rhine froze.

The New Englanders called it the “Year Without A Summer“ and “1816-
And-Froze-To-Death“, the Gulf of Maine froze two miles out to sea and
a Vermont farmer died in his meadow, caught in a blizzard white out.
In June.
And the first migration began, to Ohio, to Michigan, to California
to anyplace green and fertile,
anyplace without these damnable rocks,
anyplace not New England,
anyplace not Maine.
And these mudsills, these clay eaters, this white trash filled in the
abandonded land. Outcasts all, my people all,
taking this hardascabble land and making hardscrabble people.
Generations come and go, but we remain tied here, wearing our residency like a badge.
Everyone else is From Away.
Not to be trusted.

You may call it gentrification, but I call it the frost line.
Now pushing back, to the poles. The Earth is warming and the
people will wander once again. Up through York and Cumberland,
through hipster Portland, Yarmouth, Freeport and now to my mudsill hovel,
this Methamphetamine Kingdom. This Brunswick.
They are beautiful, these new Barbarians,
these new Visigoths, and I adore them, wish to be of them.
I once tried to ape their mannerisms, but they know a fraud when they see one.
I will never be of them.
I, too, will soon be pushed away by this frost line, further
north, or east.
This land, worthless to America for nearly 300 years,
taken over by the gentrified as she blooms in
the fertility of a temperate climate once again.

She died first. Then he.
No one claimed the little weathered home, and it sat empty, beginning
the inexorable return to earth, the back sinking first, pushing the house
prow up, revealing the stone of the foundation.
Walls freed themselves from floors, the iron door latches oxidizing,
the wood of the shingle sides drying out and cracking
with the seasons.
The roofing sagging, pushed down by the autumn leaves and the
Until the day she folds up into the soil once again,
leaving only a depression in the Earth.
Like the Chicxulub crater in Mexico where the meteor fell, killing the dinosaurs.
A quiet monument to the end.

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