NOT THE LAST OF THE KNIGHT-RIDES
One dusk, autumn, 1936.
The sun sails through a clearing sky,
the clouds part as she passes by.
A snail slithers across a dewy leaf,
his trail glistening like light against a reef.
Storms are gone now. It seems so serene,
but the boon of the immediate
postwar years has not returned.
That bubble burst; the Great Depression
sat down like an old friend in the parlor
of the Midwest, or like Grandmother's corpse
resting in bed, awaiting the return
of the undertaker from vacation
the way that the above-mentioned shore
waits for a blast of the rolling surf
to cleanse it, to prepare it for more
microbial assaults by drowning
the present generation of germs,
`lest all kill the beach the way the men
now gripping at, now ripping up the soil
to get out all of Smallville's rich oil,
are uprooting once productive acres,
displacing once complacent peoples,
who would mobilize, had not their wills
been sapped of late by the winds, the wiles,
of an adverse fate. Storms are gone now, yes:
two years later and all is calm, all is... Still.
But the Kent farm's fallen victim to the plot.
It was bought out by city slickers in felt
hats and shiny shoes, with cash but no souls.
There was compensation. Mortgages were
paid by the buyer: relief from the debt
Eben acquired, and a chance to start again
as tenants in the house their blood built
and as wage earners, Sarah a seamstress
and Clark a clerk in the general store.
It's not the same. The healthy stress --
rising at sunup to work up a sweat
that yields fruit of one's own labor to eat --
is absent, replaced by wars on boredom,
trying to stem the tedium (repeat:
trying to stem the tedium) that beats
down on the brows of workers for hire,
and to follow the shopkeeper's orders.
These run like a stream tonight --
Sweep the floor! Dust the shelves
and counter-top and lay out
poison to kill the termites
and occasional vermin! But, keep it
away from the stock, the cans of coffee
carefully stacked for display, tins of tea
to be drunk our run-of-the-mill way ("We,"
says the poet, "sipped through sugar cubes
in the old country"), with soda crackers that
cringe now in barrels lined up in the corner.
A barrage, it seems, bearable only
since he works for Lana's father
and has duties to perform by him.
Mr. Lang keeps listing them,
one per stubby, callused finger:
-- Close up the store.
Then come back in the morning, 'round four,
meet the meat wagon from the slaughterer
and pay him what I owe him. We'll end that
contract and look elsewhere. Seen my hat,
Clark? I thought I left it on the counter.
-- It's under the register,
sir, in the drawer.
(And the clerk points in answer.)
-- Yes, right there. You've a good eye, son.
-- Yes, thank you, sir. Good night.
And... exit the proprietor, stage right,
the bell on the door jingling behind him.
Ma's supper awaits (she makes Clark eat),
and super speed's not indiscrete after dark,
so he cleans and inventories (SNAP!) like that,
then starts for home. Locking the front,
he hears a cry. "Help!" Ma will have to wait.