I picked my way across virgin furrows,
hundreds of unplanted rows somewhere
outside Winters on a breezy June day under
insistent sun, teetering on unsuitable footwear
toward a lean man whose name I cannot
recall, nor the story that sent me there.
A rookie journalist in a neighboring rural county,
I took tea at noon in my pink skirt and low white heels
with service-minded Soroptimists nibbling triangle
finger sandwiches, afterward driving 20 miles
to take an unsteady walk toward a farmer
perched on his high-rise tractor “way out there,”
his wife said, pointing.
What I remember is the farmer’s face astride
a giant beast, snorting through billowing dust
to a gradual halt, as if bridling a stallion that,
given its head, could rear up and buck him off.
The man climbed down from his mechanical steed,
wiped his sweaty brow with a red bandana,
tugged up his work pants, smiled kindly.
“What can I do for you, young lady?” he asked,
as if 20-something girl reporters regularly
found him plowing the rich earth of his family land
that would, with luck, yield a worthy crop in
a matter of months.
We must have talked; I would have taken notes
in my slender reporter’s notebook. And, when
we finished, he offered me a ride back to my car
atop all that horsepower. Knowing he wasn’t
done with that day’s work—he’d said he had
many more rows to furrow—and not wanting
to delay him, I declined with thanks.
He climbed back up on his stallion trembling
with barely reined-in power, ready to paw long,
shallow trenches into soil. I wobbled my way
back across the field, half wishing I’d accepted his
offer, turning to wave, gratified to see the callused
hand and extended salute of that gentle bronc rider
silhouetted against a bleached summer sky.
I am grateful to YoloArts and their 15th annual Art Farm exhibition of art inspired by the farmlands of Yolo County, California, for hosting the first Art & Ag Poetry Contest, judged by Julia B. Levine, poet laureate of Davis, California. This poem won third place in that contest, and I read the poem at the event’s opening reception. Thanks to Julia B. Levine for selecting the poem and to Janice Purnell, creative director of Yolo Arts, and her team for their work on the exhibit.
You can listen to me read this poem here.