310. May 5, 1935: The Letter

Pounding on the door
That shook the wood.
Tom opened up.
Jack Hance, wild-eyed,
“I got it!
I got it!”

“Got what?” Tom asked,
With a sinking feeling.
Jack burst in,
And waved a piece of paper.
“What you said!” he blurted out.
“The letter!”

Tom wheeled rudely.
“What?” she called.
He eyed Jack.
“Give it here.”

First off, what Tom noticed
Was the hand: the writing,
Spindly, peaked–
Spear-like capitals,
Wiggly, uneven–
With a tremor,
Faltering, and loose.
“How’d you get this,” Tom asked,
“So damn fast?”
“Jack Hance
Don’t waste time! Seed’s in
Truck,” Jack added, pleased.
Riah joined Tom.
They bent to read.

“Dear Mr”–Kent crossed out,
Mistake, McKenna penciled in–
“The Government give me
Some new Barly,
I am
E.A. Shakelton,
Out here in Pampa.
Back in ’12, they did.
I planted it,
Crop come up good.
Kind I had,
Had nice awns,
I can tell you.
Seeded Spring.
Need about one Rain,
For it to sprout.
I got it.
Came up.
I remain
Your faithful and admiring
E.A. Shakelton,
Pampa, Texas.”

For a moment
Tom was speechless.
Riah watched a vein flick
In his neck:
Once, twice, three….

Tom, trying not to shout.
Jack? 1912?”
“Now, Tom–”
Jack put up his hands,
In self-defense–
Remember what you said.
You said,
Some new barley.
You said,
Can be different–
Crop don’t have to be
The same, you said,
Just a letter
Says it grows–”

“1912, Jack?
“Well”–Jack backed up–
“What’d you expect?
I’d drive to Arkansas?
Couldn’t get there, Tom,
I had no time!
You’d best plant now,
Or you’ll freeze in fall!
Got to plant
Now! You never said
A squeak about what year.
Just a letter, you–”

“1912, Jack?
Twenty years ago?
How come you don’t
Pull out of that pocket
Notes wrote by a mummy
Wrapped in Egypt, Jack,
Who likes his crop?
Maybe telegrams
From old Tom Jefferson–
He had land, right,
Jack? I just bet
He’s growing
Your Black Barley!

Riah’s laughter.
“Seed out in the truck!”–
She called from out there–
“Bags of seed!”

Now or never,
Jack thought.
He jumped in:
“You’ll do it,
Right, Tom?
Grow the crop?
Put the seed down there?
You’ll do it?”

Wind was kicking up
Out on the porch.
Dead leaves danced in,
Leaping at Tom’s feet.
Thomas sighed.
I give up.
“Of course.”

“One more thing.
Just one.
Plow it on the contour.
Not straight–
Heard of that?”

But curved rows–
Jack, come on!”
Tom raised his arms
For mercy. “Straight’s
The way a man plows.
Drunks, kids,
Don’t plow straight.”

“Tom, the rows,
They’ve got to be on contour.
Your word?”

Tom’s arms dropped.
“What the hell.
They’ll curve.”

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