307. One Condition

Tom began to stretch
Uneasily. This idea, this barley
Was plain crazy.
Yet when Jack spoke,
It seemed possible.
That’s my weakness,
Tom thought: sure,
I’ll chaw it over.
Can’t shut nothing out.
Makes me a fool.

“How long
Has it been, Jack”–
Tom spoke harshly–
“Since them clouds our way
Did more than spit?
Last May, you recall,
We got two showers.
One was, oh, ten minutes.
Next was five.”

But Tom! Remember–
Oh, last Monday, was it?–
Those gray clouds in piles,
Thick as you please?
Don’t say
You weren’t watching.
Why, one thunderclap
To set it off–
There’d been dowpour here
To beat the band!”
“But it didn’t.”
“But it could have!
Weren’t you–”

To have Jack Hance
Playing on his hopes
Made Thomas rage.
“Jack! Won’t be your backbone
You’ll be breaking, putting in
Some sickly crop. Won’t be
You they’ll laugh at,
Point at–just now
Getting friendly–
Not your land
That turns up nothing,
One more time.
Plant the seed
For nothing,
Hoe the weeds
For nothing, sit and wait for

Fists clenched,
Tom stood on the open sill.
Riah crossed,
Not looking at his face.
She gazed past his shoulder,
Out the door.

She saw
What they’d practiced
Not to see. At the glare
Of bleached-out land,
She paled.
Dunes rolled from the skyline,
East to west.
Not a leaf, blade,
Living thing remained;
Dead with heat, and
Buried in the dust.
Blankness, stripped and sterile.
Hopeless. No chance.
But not meant to be.
Years ago, this field
Had poured out goodness,
Cotton, crops,
Riah stared beyond him,
Look what we’ve done.”

No need.
Just that morning
Tom had walked the fence.
He’d lingered, alone.
What her farmer’s eyes saw,
His saw too.

“Am I first?”
Tom’s voice seemed far off.
“Yep, first in these parts.
Just think–you’d stand out,
A hero, Tom!”
Jack always says
The wrong thing, Riah thought.
She shook her head, but Jack
Plunged on:
“There’s one man in Kansas,
One in Arkansas–
Sure it’s always different,
But they’ve planted,
And it works.”

“Tell you what, Jack.”
Tom spoke slow, with care, like
Taking up a load.
“Here’s what I would need.”
He stopped to think.
“This crop by myself–
There’s something wrong.
You bring me a message–
Letter, telegram,
Or such–
From a man
That’s done this once before.”
“Don’t have to be
Exact same seed.  Just something
Like it. New.
Bring a letter,
Wrote by one of them,
That says it grows.
And then I’ll try.”

Pleadingly, Jack
Shot a glance at Riah.

“Tom is right.”

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