20,000 pounds of V-blade steel hoes the earth,
interrupts the ground behind me, each field particle
rearranged. Velvet leaf, pig weed, firebush --
they all matter. "All my life it's been me
against the weeds," grandpa said. "Goddamn it."
Me too, even before I knew it. Dirt
has always been here. Weeds are immortal. Temperature
gauge, fuel gauge, oil pressure, tach. Heat faded sky
is everywhere. Big. Something from a children's story
mother read. This is real; not everyone is happy.
I suffered out here, learned to understand my sweat,
just before I finished being a child. Disturbed,
dust tried to suffocate me, take me back, crawled over
and through me, its gritty-hot hands enthused
by the sun. Dad said we had to finish. The circle
turns into itself, four right angles tightening
to nothing. Distance is a matter of time. Temperature
gauge, fuel gauge, oil pressure, tach.
The price of hogs
is lost; the cost of feed, high. Fertilizer is priceless,
a bushel of wheat, worthless. Fuel. Parts. Breakdowns.
Maintenance. Money is the color of loans. Maybe the bank
will burn, the papers with it. Garnished with fear,
a field mouse stumbles across clods, escaping, its life
upset. Mice are nothing compared to tractors. Idling,
a red-tailed hawk coasts, vectors across thermals, one sector
to the next, more wind than bird; instincts are comfortable.
Mice are everything to hawks. Killing can be easy here
for anything that needs it. In the evening's dim
late light there are ways to fix the world -- bodies
left lost in Copeland's well abandoned, or other places
seen while hunting, gone. Diesel smoke or mist,
no one knows what I think. Temperature gauge, fuel gauge,
oil pressure, tach.
The radio, the words of songs, melodies,
wander aimlessly around the tractor, blend with a blast
blatant roar, diesel feeding packed horses -- silent. My voices
lost to nothing, thoughts expanded flat. I have forgotten
to listen. A jack-rabbit bolts, zags, sprints, waits tense
teasingly cautious, too strong now for the hawk, too fast
now for me. Dust and sun dismissed, a life ago I chased
his ancestors, bolted, zagged, circled. Hearts beat
hard, their pet soft summer fur in my hands. Yesterday.
Books and notes. Study hall -- Francine, her legs sampled
across the library's corner table, flowing, spilling.
Shoes on the floor. Toes. Thighs. Skin. No panty hose.
A red, leather skirt, short, tight filled with luxury.
There were other places -- her breasts breathing
beneath her blouse, a National Geographic in her hand.
She knew there were places I could've gone. Some things
get away. Temperature gauge, fuel gauge, oil pressure,
tomorrow, I am hungry. I am tired. I am crazy.
There is too much time to think, too much space
to see. Later, mother will bring me food. Sandwiches,
ice tea, chips, dessert. We will sit along the dirt road
together, backs against the car -- swat flies, watch
grasshoppers. My being crazy will go unnoticed; happy
to be my mother, she will leave the way she came. Meadowlarks
and red-winged blackbirds go about their business, float
between tall weeds and ground, hopscotch from clod
to clod. The tractor goes around and around, circling
like a buzzard. Maybe it is waiting for grandpa.
He is too old to farm; he is dead. Sometimes I look up
and he is there pacing, driving back and forth, back
and forth along the road, waiting and watching. Occasionally
he walks a few yards across the field and stands -- a monument,
back pockets filled with old gloves and hands, eyes filled
with bumper crops. Age is bottomless. Temperature gauge,
fuel gauge, oil pressure, tach.
People lived here
once. West, a mile away, a house in the middle of a field,
a corpse. On that corner north, a barn, nothing but scattered
rocks. Over east, a half mile there, where a corn field
used to be, is where my father played, running hogs
out of the creek -- old tractors, old dogs, an old grey
house -- black and white pictures, rotted boards,
rust, and bones. I never came to the front door
for another twenty-five years. A year ago I shot a deer,
a buck, there. 20,000 pounds of steel hoes the earth,
interrupts the ground behind me. Velvet leaf, pig weed,
firebush -- they all matter; everything has changed,
nothing is different. Temperature gauge, fuel gauge,
oil pressure, tach.
Originally Published in
Potato Eyes, 1999, F/W, V2, #2