180. Jack’s Office

“Hundred five
Degrees.” Boots
Propped on desk,
Jack sat with his
Black hat on his knees.
On the walls
Cigar smoke had congealed,
Brown-orange melted
Streaks. Tom thought:
Just like Jack to
Spout degrees–can’t
Simply say, it’s
Hot. Joke in
Town: Jack Hance
Would cite chapter,
Verse, to Jesus
Christ.

Jack spoke. “Back when
Roosevelt took over,
He said, Try one
Thing, then try
Another. If it
Fails, then change–but
For God’s sake, try
Something! These
Committees, Tom–” Tom
Glanced away–“they
Work. Some folks said there’d be
Cheating. Hardly has.
All the farmers
Know it’s law to
Fallow. It’s run
By the book.
Prices will rise
Someday. You’ll see.”
Tom thought of his
Debts–how pennies
More per pound of
Price seemed but
A dent. “Well,
Jack,” offhand,
“What I chaw on–
How can mortgage
Be so high? More
Than the land will bear.
More than farm will
Pay for, us
Afford. Shouldn’t
That all match up,
More or less?”

Drawing in on
His cagar, Jack:
“Ah!”, expansive.
“Speculation,
That’s part why. There’s
Others laying
Bets on what could be.
Land’s worth what it
Might be worth someday.”
Rapid puffs.
“Tom–you’re
Good a farmer
As you ever were. But
Sinking! Problem’s
Not just here.  Market’s
Far away. If you got no
Government, like Hoover,
Then the big guys
Can do what they
Like–slave labor,
Drive up prices,
Stash the profits–
They work kids!”
“I know that.” Jack
Frowned and shrugged:
“You know better
Than to strip
The land. But you need
Cash now for
Machines and seed. Cash
Crops for cash! And
Them, what they own,
They’ll strip it, take
Profit, and skip
Town.”

Jack rose from his
Desk. “Tom,
Ever hear what
That French king once
Said?” Tom bit his
Tongue. “‘Credit
Supports the farmer
As the rope
Supports the hanged.’
Piles up, right?
Credit. Interest.
What about
The big guys now with
Fancy new
Machines, who buy us
Out and then make
Profits you don’t
Dream?”
Jack laughed shortly.
“So your land is
Worth what they can
Pay–and that is
Plenty! Tom, but
You! The future
Don’t pay bills. You
Can’t play with
The big guys–play and
Win. No even
Field.”

Tom was watching
Jack with wariness: I
Hate you too.
We all do–you
Make us more
Confused.
You enjoy it.
Say there’s hope, and
Then tell us there’s
None. To you it’s
Crapshoot, just some
Game. “But
Seems,” Tom said,
Dogged, “in this world,
If one thing is
Solid, would be
Land.
Piece of land. House,
Cow. I know
Roosevelt don’t
Want us out–
Why,” Tom strained–
“Farmer’s first-class
Citizen! I
Mean it! Family
Farm, the backbone
Of the states!
Farmers built this
Country. They’re
The best!
All the papers
Say.”
“Tom, look here–”
Burrowing,
Jack scavenged his desk.
Found a scrap.
“This is Tugwell,
One of the Brains Trust. He
Tells what ‘farm’ is–”
Cleared his throat–“‘Farm’:
          vicious ill-tempered
          soil, with not very
          good house, inadequate barns,
          makeshift machinery,
          happenstance stock,
          tired, overworked men and
          women….where ugly,
          brooding monotony that
          haunts by day and
          night unseats the mind….'”

“I won’t hear it!”
Tom leapt from his
Chair, straight for
The door–
“Damn professors!”
“Tom, he’s not
The enemy.”
“Well, who is then?”
“Ones you can’t see.”
“Damn the pack of you!
All of you want to
Leave us nothing
Left! Tear
Down, tear down!
What he wrote!–That’s
Terrible!”
“Yes, it is”: Jack
Felt himself on edge.
Why could he not
Get through to these
Men? Tom, at
Least, should see….
“By the way, Tom,
Since you’re going
Now, might as well
Tell you–
That committee
Seat, Wilt Carter
Got it. They
Discussed you, but–” Tom
Whirled: “I guess he
Did. He has
A nice big spread.”
Jack snapped: “He was
Chosen fair and square!”

Tom, on his way
Out: “Sure. They
All are.”

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