When I spoke John Deere

farmI used to speak John Deere,
plowing and planting and cultivating,
year around from hay baling to snow plowing.

Back then, in spring, the planter hoppers filled with seed,
Dad dropped straight rows of corn and beans
from planter hoppers filled with seed
into dark spring soil.
Cultivating seemed easier to me,
green rows marking the place for
long teeth turning weeds under.

Dad wore a straw hat with a built-in green sunshade visor,
long hours on the tractor burning a year-round
farmer tan, that stopped where his shirt sleeves began.

Anything with a tractor seemed easier
to me, one of the kids walking soybean rows
pulling enemy mustard and stray corn.

Back then, in summer,
Grandpa drove the tractor slowly
away from the barn,
steadily drawing the hayrope on its pulley,
Then he backed up, and
I pulled in the hayrope,
dark brown, two inches thick, and
smooth with the sweat of generations,
curling into a neat pile at my feet.

In front of the barn,
Dad steadied the hay carrier up and into the haymow,
one jerk to drop the bales and then
guiding the hay carrier’s sharp, dangerous teeth
down and into the next cargo of bales.
Jumping off the hayrack and signaling Grandpa,
ready, go again.

Back then, in fall, the silo fillers came,
chopped corn filling the tall white silo
up all the way to the top.
And then the power take-off catching at a hand
blood and mangled flesh,
an ambulance screaming down the highway.

On better days,
we hurried home from school,
dug potatoes and carrots and beets,
picked tomatoes, red and green,
hauled squash and pumpkins and muskmelon,
into the house, ahead of the frost.

Back then, in winter,
Dad put the snow scoop on the tractor,
cleared driveway and barn and hog house and granary,
piled snow mountains for us to climb.

I lit the heater for the cattle tank,
match after match dropping from freezing fingers until
the gas flame caught and held and thawed
enough for drinking water.
The animals depend on you, winter and summer.
Failing to water them,
Mother said,
would be a mortal sin.

I used to speak John Deere,
plowing and planting and cultivating,
year around from hay baling to snow plowing.


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