17. After Breakfast

Should we choose the tractor,
Or the truck?” Tom
Brought in James’ dishes,
The Orphan Annie mug
They could not buy,
So glued the comics’ Annie
To a cup. James
Had left for school.
A quiet fell.

“You mean,
Which to give up”:
She cut at the burnt ridge
On a a pan. Tom said,
“Don’t seem right,
Payments for both.
When we’re broke.”
He rinsed the cup.
“Don’t get her face wet.”
“Okay. Fact is,”
He laughed shortly,
“Wouldn’t mind the being broke.
Broke sounds good to me.
We’re worse than broke–
Debtors. Thousands,
For the tractor, truck,
The house. Pay
Full tax on this place,
Not a fourth of it is ours.
On the truck, I figure
We might own the rearview
Mirror, maybe tires.
Seems crazy now.”

Eyes drawn into a frown,
She rinsed a spoon,
Gave it to him to dry.
“There isn’t but one way
To buy a truck,” she said.
“Same to buy a tractor,
Or a farm–
And that’s on time.
But you look around–”
She pointed with a fork–
“Nothing else on time,
Inside this house.
Just those, with no choice.
No sewing machine.
Radio, we sold. No easy chair,
Could make payments for.
No,” she said,
“I don’t think we’ve been bad.”
She sloshed water. “Could we
Drive the tractor into town?
Sell the truck?”

Wiping cups,
Tom thought.
“We could. Problem is,
Where to put the groceries,
Seed, and all. We could
Rig a platform up,
But rickety.
Can’t spill on the road.”
“Didn’t think of that,” said Riah,
“And too, if it broke down,
Where’d we be? What if
James got sick”–her terror–
“And dust plugged the tractor.
Have to walk to town.
It would take hours.”
She shook her head–
“Better just to move,”
Which she dismissed.

He took a dripping bowl.
“Don’t see how to farm
Without a truck,” Tom agreed.
“Tractor–now, they used to
Not be here.”
He recalled: “Your dad said,
Horse and man
Can plow an acre a day.
Four horses,
Plow six. Tractor–
That plows twenty.
Tractor with a double disc,
Plows more”–he trailed off,
“Got to have it.”
She handed him the knife:
“What we’d get to sell it,
Wouldn’t pay.”
“Looks like,” Tom said,
“Keep them both, until–
We have to not.”
“Till there’s no farm,” she said,
“Reckon so.”

The big fry-pan,
Black and rough with wear,
Hung on a nail.
Six blue plates,
Four bowls,
Above the sink.
In the drawer
The silverware was stored:
Eight spoons, forks, six knives.
“Well. What now,
Cleaning stubble?” Riah asked.
Heading out together
For the day.

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