Tobacco Men

Late fall finishes the season for marketing:
Auctioneers babble to growers and buyers.
Pickups convoy on half-flat tires, tobacco
Piled in burlap sheets, like heaped-up bedding
When sharecropper families move on in November,
No one remembers the casualties
Of July's fighting against tim ein the sun.
Boys bent double for sand lugs, bowed
Like worshippers before the fertilized stalks.
The rubber-plant leaves glared savagely as idols.

It is I, who fled such fields, who must
Reckon up losses: Walter fallen out from heat,
Bud Powell nimble along rows as a scatback
But too light by September, L. G. who hoisted up a tractor
To prove he was better, while mud his his feet--
I've lost them in a shimmer that makes the rows move crooked.

Wainwright welded the wagons, weighed three
Hundred pounds, and is dead. Rabbit was mechanic
When not drunk, and Arthur best ever at curing.
Good old boys together--maybe all three still there,
Drinking in a barn, their moonshine clearer than air
Under fall sky impenetrable as a stone named for azure.

I search for your faces in relation
To a tobacco stalk I can see,
One fountain of up-rounding leaf.
It looms, expanding, like an oak.
Your faces form fruit where branches are forking.
Like the slow-motion explosion of a thunderhead,
It is sucking the horizon to a bruise.

A cloud's high forehead wears ice.

:: James Applewhite, Following Gravity

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