I wake before the cock crows
the palest promise of dawn,
spread the feed in gentle throws,
out ‘cross the chickens’ lawn.
And now to the cabbage rows,
loathsome, lousy with thistle.
in everything a bramble grows –
for fat you must have gristle –
and taking up my draw-hoe,
smooth-grained from the handling
my thoughts return to trails I know,
the brambles in my ambling.
I cannot survive another winter, here.
In Spring, I plant the hard-shelled seeds
and watch the fingers erupt from the earth;
In Summer, I pluck the flowers, the fruit,
the fragrant things,
the offered vittles,
and in Autumn,
(that most loathsome of seasons),
I watch the vines curl, the leaves
prune and blacken, I
see the fruit molder,
fluffy mildews, crown-rot,
the vibrant greens drain to brown,
Drooping at every frost
like sickly children.
I cannot survive another Winter, here,
and long to see the Spring.
Picking in the shade of the red haven trees
was my brother, and my father, and a very young me,
and we spoke of our neighbors, and Old Times, and cars,
of madness, of family, of infinite scars,
and my father decided as he plucked a ripe peach
that a loud man’s most eager to give a long speech,
and a rich man craves more than a man in a shack,
and those who take most will give the least back,
and, unhooking his crate, his last point was made
That water tastes sweetest when drunk in the shade.
Beneath the barn it’s laid, its use has fled
the bones; it hefts no plow, sits idly in
a sea of tarp that drowns the naked steel
and clings, suggesting wretched shapes beneath
the waves, sailors and wreckage all bobbing there.
The owner will tell: he inherited
that scrap, a warrior from ancient fields
crippled and battered with rust-eaten holes
stippled across the pale and peeling paint.
It cannot drive, it cannot brake, and fuel
spews from the rotting veins; the steering’s shot;
the heart hydraulic will never heave; the
power takeoff shaft is stuck; the headlights
sit hollow like empty eyes; mice stripped
the fan-belt, the filters, gathered all
into the engine, nested beneath their
very own blue sky; the wheels are absent; no
useful thing remains among that corpse.
Yet when the elder owner’s asked, he grins,
and says, “I still have my father’s tractor.”
My hands scratch clay-rich dirt
As did my father’s, and his, and his;
With roughshod nails on leather fingers,
Long but without slenderness
Made solid by the task.
Those hands hefted these same loads,
Bore the seeds of past promise,
(These planted shells have always grown)
Pushed the same heavy plows and
Tamed the land with selfsame toil;
But on the earth lusts for our labor,
With gruesome gulps she
Grows these fields.
I put aside these cloying thoughts
And scratch another seed in.
We sweat in the bleached bones of the stable,
Which has stood a century, perhaps longer,
Where blazing manes turned and tossed,
And steely shoes beat sand to glass.
So long ago;
Now the white paint turns to dust,
The pillars slink into the earth,
The walls afford the sunlight,
And men know nothing of yesterday.
Yet here we are,
Man and woman,
Girl and boy,
Sweating in the bleached bones of the stable.
The mosquitos and the heat were both biting hard that morning, so Jim decided to wander away from the homestead and go off to town. It was a long walk that he had made many times, as the horse was usually too busy working a plow to make the trip and his family was not wealthy enough to afford one of the automobiles sold down at Benny’s. He took to walking very leisurely, a pace he always took when the only destination was elsewhere. Continue reading “A Dollar Fifty”