2002, Creekside Press

CATERPILLAR "60" - Cranston Stroup (ca.1928)

...........................................................The sun
Is burning clouds up over Lame Mare Hill
As Rudolph Brown comes strolling from the barn
Rubbing his thighs, and slapping on his chest
To start the circulation. "Dean and I
Will take the Fresnos and the two roan teams
To Lower Forty. Guess you'd better run
The tractor up behind Lame Mare. Perhaps
We'd better lay that section fallow now
For next year."

.....................I know that field well; and Brown,
For all his money in the local bank,
Must feel the meadow is too lovely rare
Even for pasture. Now this gleaming shard
The coughing Caterpillar will defile
And turn and tarnish.

.....................................Rudolph grins and goes.
I think he knows I'll hate this sacrilege
Of scorn for beauty. I laugh a little, too,
Half sheepishly, that I am such a fool;
Stride over to the toolshed, slam the door.

I grab the gun, and grease the tractor cups;
Then prime the cylinders, and swing the crank.
I know a quarter turn is all it needs
To start the sixty horses' snorting breath
As they all paw beneath the hood to be
Away. The tractor roars. And we are off,
Complaining, down the road, dusty with Spring.

Not knowing, you would think the tractor's cough
Would fright the little folk for miles around
Into their burrows. Well it doesn't though.
A badger waddles leisurely across the road,
And, unperturbed, slips slowly out of sight.
A coyote, with a squirrel held in his teeth,
Sedately stalks across the trail. The sly
Old thief knows well enough I have no gun.
Jack-rabbits, feigning fright, leap almost down
Between the treads. Vituperative from
A eucalyptus bough, a blue-jay screams.
While down inside some soft old live-oak stump
A thrush sings lullabies to four young birds.
The gang-plough bangs and rattles up the road
On rusty, well-greased wheels. The tractor snorts
As we surmount the rise.

........................................Below us lies,
Patient, compliant for the sacrifice,
This meadow, pristine, smiling, excellent,
And glowing in the sun just come above
The top of Lame Mare Hill. The golden bowls
The poppies hold aloft are full of dew.
The lupines all have nectar on their lips.
And over by the hill, the mustard flowers
Are full of rainbows.

...................................But I drop the ploughs,
And set the gears in low for the long, slow pull
Of slope. The plow cuts deep. The ribbons turn
As sixty horses strain the bar. The flowers
Sink to graves of unmarked beauty.

.................................................."Well,
Better," I console, "to die in this
Your beauty, exquisite, than sink at last
A tattered memory to the earth that once
You suckled, faded and worn with life."

And so, ten thousand to a furrow, bits
Of sky, and tiny fragments of the sun
Are buried under shrouds of quiet earth.

.................... * * * *

By supper time I'd washed my greasy hands
and leaned against the gate to watch the sun
Sinking behind the hills. Then to the house.

After grace, plump Mrs. Brown heaps high
A plate for Dean and me. And there's a plate
For grinning Rudolph, too. He turns to me:
"Well, how'd the tractoring go today up there
Behind Lame Mare?" I don't laugh. For I
Remember too much. But I say instead:
"Just twenty acres still are left to plough,
And that small lower lupine field below
The wash: a trifle for tomorrow."


Please do not print the images without permission.

"...the meadow is too lovely rare even for pasture" For a larger image, click here

 

"...the golden bowls the poppies hold aloft are full of dew" For a larger image, click here

 

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"The lupines all have nectar on their lips" For a larger image, click here.

 
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