120. Stopping

No more hoeing.
No more chopping:
Useless.
Few plants here, few
There–so let them
Go.

On the gray porch
Railing, leaning hard,
Tom sat with his hands
Jammed in his pockets.
Quit the hoeing?
Reckon that was
Right?
They had both
Decided to last week.
Fields were stone, James
Strained his back.
But if we don’t
Hoe…then
What?

Tom thought:
Dumb to hoe.
Though with dryland
Farming, it was
All dumb, nothing
Worked. Listing
Helped, held dirt.
But no matter
What–no, you could
Time your planting
Careful, choose the day–
Then as weeks would
Pass, watch weather,
Study Almanac, pray rain–
Then, of course, drought
Came. Plant your crops
Early, sure to
Beat the freeze–then
Early freeze.
Hold your crop off
Market, counting
Hours waiting for that
Higher price–then
Market collapsed.
Why stop hoeing?
Shoot. It didn’t
Work. But nothing
Worked. Don’t mean you
Ought to quit.

Till this
Dry spell, it seemed
Simple. Oh,
Not a cinch but
Farming by the book,
With same kind of
Method others used. But…
When rain stops for
Good, the path’s
Uncharted, Tom thought:
No more map.
Or–the oldest one. Early
Settlers rode in,
Tom recalled, in
Wagons–their map
Marked a blank here
Called “Great Desert.”
Scared their hides off.
Thomas looked off,
Frowned.

He guessed
It’s okay–
Stopping hoeing–
Strange to take James’
Back into account.
Planting, hoeing,
Should be simple
Choices–right way,
That’s good farming,
Wrong, the bad–but
Now who knew?
But James’ back hurt,
That was truth.

Time was
Dragging…but speak
Of the Devil!
Here came James,
Spry as a young
Cock who struts the yard.
“Hey, Dad! Barker
Got me a keen
Job!” Tom smiled:
“That so? Couldn’t
Barker do it?”
“Naw. They needed
Talking.” James’ face
Shone:
“This man, Barker
Signaled him to
Wait. Then ran and
Got me.” Thomas
Noticed James now
Waved a silver
Dime. “And Dad,
All I had to
Do was bite that
Mule!”

“What?” Good Lord,
Something every
Minute with that
Boy. “Man from
Baton Rouge, he’d
Rounded up some mules.
Drove them out here
So that folks could buy,
Folks whose tractor’s
Busted. But he
Said he had this
Problem: mules
Scare some folks.
Some folks thinks they’re
Mean.”

“Yes?” Tom swallowed
Laughter: James, so
Proud! “So he
Hires me!
It’s my job to
Sit up on the mule,
Any mule that
Someone’s got an eye on.
All I got to
Do is bite its
Ear”: James bared teeth.
“So I bite it,
And the mule don’t
Move!” Here Tom’s lips
Twitched. “I bite it
Once or twice.
Then I say loud
Like the man, he
Told me: ‘Why,
Sirs, This Mule Is
Gentler Than My
Mother!'”

Tom exploded–
Sounded like a cough–
Hid behind his
Kerchief muffling it. James,
Polishing the coin:
“I’ll go tell
Mama.”

“Do that, son.
You be sure you
Do. For sure she’ll
Want to hear it”:
Thomas’ hand was
Covering his mouth. “Well
Done. Good job.”
Tom’s red face ducked
Down.

James’ back now felt
Better, Tom could see.
He smiled: even
Without hoeing,
Not so bad
Today.

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