by Joan Colby
In a January dawn, the spreader’s load
Is half frozen, half smoldering
In its compacted heart. Unquenchable
Self-immolation. The icy boards groan.
His dream, at ten, to farm like his forebears.
I can handle it. His mother pouring coffee nods.
His father still showering for the day job
That keeps the old place going.
She hears the tractor chugging along the ditch
To the field of stubble hauling its burden.
After awhile, the silence seizes her.
The glazed window framing a frieze:
Rising sun glancing off yellow steel
Stalled at the margin of battered corn.
Rags twisting in the wind.
His boots plunge periods in crusted snow.
His heart, though, a question mark.
He knows the answer before he gets there.
The shredded horror of his boy.
He wants to shout How many times
Have I told you. The old tractor
Hard to start. Just a moment to
Clear the blades. The cold. The wish
For the warm kitchen. The PTO churns
Implacably spitting bits of sinew and yarn.
She lies in the darkened bedroom unable to attend
Wake or funeral, imagining the blame
In the neighbors’ eyes. Only 10
What were they thinking. 20 below –
An exaggeration but one that befits
A story of parents luxuriating
Over oatmeal while the boy
Struggled with jammed iron.
Her heart jams each time she thinks
Of how he must have shouted.
Later, she gets to her feet. This farm
Must go on. It’s what the boy
Would want. His dream that was her dream.
She says He died doing what he loved.
He turns away. She wasn’t at that scene
Of impossible destruction. She didn’t have
To turn the key. To cradle
What was left. His footprints in the snow
So deeply implanted, he feels the freeze
Climb to his sternum and erupt
Like the spontaneous combustion of waste.
In that cold farmhouse,
A year later to the day
He sits down in his easy chair
The shotgun in his lap.
Now she’ll have something to discover.
Vintage tales of hardship and survival
Granddad crushed when the tractor toppled
On Brier Hill. How Uncle John lost his arm
To the picker. Samuel smothered
In the silo, lungs full of harvest.
She overlooks the acres
Awaiting disc and plow.
An early spring, she’ll turn
That dark earth over.