IN THE MORNING IN MISSOURI

In August, Aunt Mamie and the girls

stoked the wood stove for breakfast:

platters of fried eggs, bowls of oatmeal, toast,

homemade jellies, honey, fresh churned butter,

last night’s chicken stew

 

As the sun lit, the able boys and men

drank coffee, headed for fields

holding on to the backs of tractors

 

At nine, hungry again, dusty, itchy,

arms and faces scratched by then,

the women fed them sandwiches and fruit,

and at noon a big dinner of fried chicken,

tomatoes they gnawed like apples,

corn on the cob, pitchers of icy juice

 

In humid afternoons under brutal skies

they sat in the shade at three

for lemonade and cookies,

then bucked bales behind the Allis-Chalmers

pulling wooden wagons until dark,

and sat for supper in breezes on the porch

 

Uncle Joe’s hay done, days later

they finished yonder neighbor’s fields

 

That was summer in the 1950s

when small farms were yet,

and we still muscled men and women

 

On Sundays men folk fished the river;

old aunts rocked on porches between feeds,

sipping tea and coffee, giggling in girlhood

about ‘a courtin’

 

Autumn was time for fixing things,

afternoons for figuring profits, if any,

Aunt Mamie at the kitchen table weeping to herself,

shuffling bills from the electric company,

Uncle Joe puttering on tractors inside the barn

scented with honeyed hay

 

Year round, they woke dazed

from dark, cold sleep,

relieving the pressure of cow’s teats,

scraping dung with shovels

from cement floors

 

The outhouse Sears catalogs were

little more than they had from God

 

The chores, always the chores,

ice ruts in the barnyard

carved by spring tractor tires,

below zero, early dawn

 

A pot bellied stove in the kitchen

held them together, old looking at a young age;

crinkled, rough handed, wild as bulls,

they drove battered pick ups at age eleven

on country roads where some rolled over

of an icy night, found next morning dead

and stiff as struck deer

 

In the morning in Missouri

leaning against a summer sycamore

in an ancient pasture of dry grass filled

with the click/chirp of locust and cricket,

you can hear them, you can feel them,

gone to loam, sideways the river,

a farm family,

in the morning in Missouri