(This is a poem I wrote in 2007 after reading Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Times. The formatting of the original gets messed up, which is why I rarely post poetry online, but this poem helps me realize why I love to teach soil care to gardeners - there is no more valuable resource available to a person and it must be cared for with diligence and intelligence. Like the seeds, I hope this poem takes purchase...)
We farmed in the dry lands
And when the rain fell
We made babies in the muddy fields
And fed them corn and milk and butter and watermelons;
Took them to church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning
And buried our dead and baptized our children
And thanked God for another abundant year.
And we farmed in the dry lands
When one year the rain didn’t fall.
And babies were still-born
with nothing to feed them anyway.
And the banker came with the sheriff and said
There was more money we owed than we could pay
And some went out on the road to Bakersfield
While others laid down and died and
Went to church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning
And asked God what we had done so wrong that brought this
Hell to our lives.
And still we farmed the dry lands
Although you couldn’t rightly call it farming
For all we did was throw the forlorn seed on the
Hard dry soil without a prayer that it or we would live and
Without out hope that it or we should come to anything. We
Dropped the seed from desperation
Not from thought; only rote, not sacred ritual
And we didn’t make babies anymore or go to church
On Wednesday evening or Sunday morning.
After ten years of farming these mean, heartless, dry lands,
Neighbor Clara went crazy and killed herself
And that poor Henderson boy died from the dust in his lungs,
After Pa had laid in his grave and Ma followed him down,
I sat with my head in my hands and wondered why I had ever made babies
And if I would ever go to church again on Sunday morning let alone Wednesday evening...
But the Lord be praised,
The rains came that year so the seed took hold and began to grow.
And soon the babies could be fed on corn and milk and butter and watermelon
And papa’s would become papa’s and mama’s would become mama’s
Laying in the muddy fields with hope and lust, and dream of the harvest
That would feed
The hungry mouths of their blessed babies.
But a part of me
Has withered, having gone without rain and harvest and a prayer to God too long
Now, no rain can lighten the lines in my face
Or lighten the load of my plow.
And though I sow beside the boy who dreams of his own
Farm of a plenty acres,
Left in me,
There’s a knowing of hopelessness I cannot swallow or spit up.