The plowman knows where the ox will turn, and when,
and gives it plenty of room and encouragement,
and never uses the stick.
Coming back along the new furrow he passes
the faint images of his previous selves
in the adjacent rows.

He says the seed will sprout, and it does;
he says the rain will come, and it does,
but never quite as much as he had hoped;
he says the sun will shine, and it does,
ripening the grain.
He says that in its good time the earth
will yield its harvest, and it does,
threefold or fourfold, but never quite as much
as he might want.

He says that next spring he will plant barley,
and he does. Much later, when his joints stiffen,
the field lies fallow.
In its good time death takes him:
while playing quoits with his cronies,
he keels over backwards in his chair.
After the funeral, when the family gathers
to comfort her, his widow tells them,
“I always said he would go like that.”

October 7, 1993

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