Each car in front of me speeds out past the little tractor,
The farmer I have known my whole life.
My foot gets comfortably heavy on the brake,
A weight I need, today
Want, to slow me down on this winding Vermont road that
I know like a vein in my hand.
I breath, wondering when was the last time I really did.
Even the choking diesel smell that comes in dirty black puffs
Is a comfort, the same way my daddy’s chainsaw used to sing a lullaby.
I take in the faded red paint of that little tractor’s soul, and smile that it is almost pink.
That, juxtaposed against the old farmer, his hunched tired frame
Perched atop her sturdy seat.
This pace is good for him, has always been.
As the rest of the world moves on
To ever increasing efficiency of productivity,
I stay contentedly behind, my mind adrift.
I wonder at the farmer’s life since his wife passed,
And I begin to weep.
Her memory crumbled
While the proud white clapboards of his old dairy barn splintered
And the stanchions within became dividers of junk
Instead of humble bovine necklaces.
Years ago his black and white herd
Along the rich flood waters of the West Branch dispersed
The sweet stench of manure spreading gone.
Just like the carefree days of searching for kittens
In the hay barn - his son and I.
Instead of suicide
The farmer took up truck driving.
It paid the bills, kept his land intact,
But did it feed his soul
Which before had been nourished by the dirt of the land,
And watered by the sweet rains before haying time?
Now he has retired.
Fences have been mended,
And a small herd of Angus has slowly trickled in.
A small plot has been tilled by the river bank, and I think I have seen
The slight upward curve of his lips return with the old satisfied twinkle in his eye.
Alone he has returned to the land.
But not entirely alone.
His children, too, have returned with their children,
The youngest grandbaby handed the name of his wife,
When they passed each other between this world and the next.
He knows of his fortune to have them, together,
To breath life back into this fertile cradle of our valley.
As my eyes overflow with the tears
I have not cried for an old farmer and his tractor,
For the persistence of his kind,
For the love of a place in the world,
And a slowness honored,
The tears I have not cried, for his grief,
And for my own grief that floods my soul,
I watch him wave at the other unknown drivers of working vehicles,
And I see my own dad’s thick hand reach up
In that eternal man’s covenant of an honest day’s work -
The flick of the wrist, fingers not outstretched
Like a woman’s eager wave, but curved over
Barely letting go of the wheel.
No, this is not really a wave,
More of a blue collar salute of acknowledgement
For the farmers and carpenters,
The men hauling heavy machines and moving lumber and rocks.
They needn’t know each other to offer this simple roadside greeting
They’ve done a thousand times before,
Only to know what it’s like to come home
Dead tired at the end of every day,
And still hope you’ve done enough
To feed your family.
Miles we’ve driven like this,
At half the speed limit,
And I know I am late for something
That used to be important.
But still, I am in no hurry.
I am sobbing now, my chest heaving, and ancient aching sounds
Expelled from my lungs
But I have not felt such comfort and such gratitude in a long time
For such a moment as this
Which brings me down,
Deep into my roots
In this simple great green valley home.