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spacer.gif   Constance Vogel
Posted by : cj on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 09:16 AM
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Poetry:  Click On The Author's Name Broom Corn

He sped past silo after silo,
reciting towns he knew by heart:
Pesotum, Humboldt, Oakland and Tuscola--
misnamed, he thought, no towering oaks in Oakland,
no tuskers plodding down Tuscola's streets.
Although his destination lay straight south,
he swerved across the railroad tracks,
the lip of an invisible threshold,
and cruised the brick-paved roads--
the shuttered Libman corn broom factory,
faded barns, lurching clapboard houses
until he reached the one where he grew up.
A rusted bike collapsed against a wall.
On the sagging porch petunias struggled.
from broken concrete urns his mother had.
Next door, in his father's field,
cornstalks withered on the ground
among the boneset, thistles and ragweed.

He'd labored long in that endless field,
beginning when the sun was thin
as orange juice watered down to last.
His father oversaw the hired Johnnies--
migrants who cut and gathered up the brush
he hauled by wagon to the drying shed--
fathers, uncles, sons and childhood friends
nick-named Baldy Jim and Whiskey Bob--
southern folk who wore fedora hats
and longer sideburns than he'd ever seen.
He liked to eavesdrop on their twangy talk
of hunts for bear and possum in the hills
and moonshine brewed at night in hidden stills.

Deseeding was the job he hated most:
the way the thresher's mouth spit up at him,
the rain of particles into his eyes,
the haze of dust that gave him "broomcorn itch."
He vowed he'd never live his father's life,
risk a crop that wind or storm blew down,
hire hands that stole the knives and ran
or heard the call to fight in the Great War.

Standing on the edge of that bleak field
his eyes teared up from the dust
of images that swarmed inside his head--
the wet sweet smell of corn mingled with grit,
the Johnnies in their sweat-stained undershirts,
his father's face growing ever darker
from worry and the long-term sun,
and he, an eager boy with broomstraw hair
who went from door to door and asked,
"Lady, buy a broom for fifty cents?
Nothing sweeps as clean."

 
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