Donald Harbour – Two Poems

Dirt Farmer

There he is in the field a farmer, a grandfather,
husband, friend, church deacon. A raw boned man
dressed in bib overalls, sweat stained felt hat,
shod in a pair of well worn Brogans, and a thread bare
blue chambray shirt. He only had three changes of clothes.

He plows with a team of mules, they have been
together it seems forever. He doesn’t gee or
haw or slap their flanks with the reins, nor does
he pull the leather in his hands. The mules
know, they have done this forever too.

The furrows are straight as ruled lines on a
note page. He stumbles now and then. The mules
understand and stop to turn their heads in unison
looking back at him. Then hand on plow they resume
their plodding though a little slower now. So he can
keep up.

Seventy years old, his knees and ankles broken
down by farming, by the earth tugging at him, and
yet he wakes up everyday anxious. His need is to
feel the dirt in his calloused hands, his fingernails
cracked and chipped from the work, but still loving and
kind. The mules know this.

When the day is over and he turns the team to pasture
one of them will gently, tenderly brush against him. They have
pulled for him all day without complaint, hard lathered
work and yet at dawn they stand at the gate ready for the harness.
The fields are his canvas to paint with colors of cotton, soy beans
and corn even in the driest of summers. He always gives back.

On a Saturday he will go to town and sit in the barbershop
where the other old men will brush up against each other
with the words of years. He’ll buy a bag of candy corn for
the grand kids and after a haircut treat himself to a little
lilac water. But the smell of the mules, the dirt, the farm
is still on his skin. It is a comfort to his family.

One winter he came down with consumption and though he tried
his tired body could not, would not let him leave the bed. The doctor
visited and shook his head. His wife of fifty years sat with
him through the whispering days until one morning he awoke,
touched her cheek and said, “I have always loved you.” She
bent over and kissed his forehead. He closed his eyes and died.

The day he was buried, the church could not hold the
hundreds that came to his funeral. It was winter while the
fields were asleep. The next year when spring turned back
the earth’s covers the fields refused to grow the crops.
On a bright sunny day in June the mules laid down and died.
The farm was buried with them.

**

Love’s Fallen Tears

One day as the summer approached,
I took a stroll down a dusty road.
A brief morning shower had fallen,
Scattering the scent of fields newly mowed.

A breeze played with the daisies,
A game of catch me if you dare,
It kicked up the red sand of the surface,
Twirling dust dancers in the warm air.

I inhaled the beauty that surrounded me,
It would live only till the season turned.
There was a joy about all nature,
So, I slowed my step as I sojourned.

This lane passed through shadows and light,
Of oak and pine forested wood.
Then along fields of tall tasseled corn,
And pastures where cows chewed their cud.

Absorbed in the world around me,
I continued a mile – maybe more,
Until as time the trickster can do,
I walked through fate’s unseen open door.

Glancing down at the dirt road,
I saw another also walked alone ahead,
Faint as a whisper in the sand,
Though steady and measured the tread.

I was curious as to who it might be,
For none had I seen pass this way,
Nor did I know when they had stepped in the road,
On this marvelous magical day.

I quickened my pace to catch up,
Peering intently ahead to a bend.
I wished only to know who it was,
I did not want to bother nor offend.

The trees arched together
They formed a cool cathedral dome.
A sanctuary for those who tarried.
The solace of knowing ones home.

I walked as silently as I could,
Rounding a turn with a high banked hill,
I saw the shadow of a scrap of a man,
Not far ahead in the road standing still.

He leaned on a gnarled walking cane,
His white hair gleamed as if covered with dew.
Then he turned to look at my face,
With eyes of the clearest bright blue.

“I see you are enjoying this fine day as I,”
The voice strong but with the rasp of age.
“Why don’t you come walk with me for a piece,
At least to the other side of this forest glade?”

“Thank you,” I said and I strode to his side,
Where he turned heading on down the lane.
He began to speak as if we were longtime friends,
Without ever asking for my name.

“I was visiting the place of my birth,
Now gone but back in a fern covered glen.
My mother and brother are buried ‘neath a rose bush,
Where a rocky cliff makes the creek take a bend.”

“A tree there was planted by my father,
A red oak now a giant at its girth.
I was six when my little brother and mother,
Died at the moment of his birth.”

“Oh, I know that you probably don’t care,
About this old man’s tales of his past.
I just want to relive some memories with you,
Along with a simple requested task.”

Then he stopped and looked in my face,
Before I could ask what the task could be,
He reached out a farm weathered hand,
Holding the most beautiful rose he offered to me.

“I will leave you at the edge of this road,
I have some other business that I need to attend,
You’ll find a farm house further on with some people,
Stop there and tell them you are John’s friend.”

So I listened as he told me of his days,
Plowing fields behind a pair of loved mules,
About the implements of his work in the soil,
Protesting modern mechanized tools.

He spoke about his wife and his children,
Taken by the fever one and all,
How he once looked over the heads of men,
When he was not bent but young and tall.

I thought I saw a tear in the corner of his eye,
When he mentioned his friend a black and tan hound,
But that soon passed and he livened his step,
As he spoke of farming and growing the ground.

At last we reached the end of the glade,
The forest took up its stand once again.
“When you get to the house and tell them you know John,
Please give this rose only to him.”

Then he patted my hand that held the rose,
And turned down a meadow path of parted grass.
I said, “Goodbye I enjoyed your company,
I truly hope that this meeting is not our last.”

He stopped, paused a moment then looked back at me,
There was a smile on his face that touched my heart,
Saying,”Good friends do not take a life time to make,
Our walk together is a bond that no person can part.”

I watched him disappear in the shadows
Then he was gone leaving silence in this place,
I realized I was holding my breath,
Trying hard to remember his face.

Not too much further up the road
Past fields of weeds and a dilapidated barn,
I came to a driveway filled with cars,
Leading to a once proud old homestead farm.

I did not hesitate for I felt calm, at peace,
Knocking on the paint crackled solid plank door.
I waited as I heard footsteps approach,
Each one creaking a pine wood laid floor.

A man dressed in black stepped out,
I said, “I’m a friend of John who I have come to see.”
“Then you are welcome,” said the man with kindness,
“Please come in, peace be with thee.”

I followed him through a room filled with sadness,
Etched in the faces of those gathered there,
I heard, “Here is John,” and looked in a casket,
Where lay a man with white dew covered hair.

A great knot welled up in my chest,
The shock of the moment caught my surprise.
I heard his words echo in my mind,
As tears filled my now reddened eyes.

I took the rose and placed it beneath his hands,
As its petals fell scattering across his chest.
For a moment I thought his face changed to a smile,
And now I understood his single request.

“That was a kind thing to bring him today,”
The man standing beside me spoke with pride,
“I know that rose, it grows at his mothers grave,
John would have been 100 the day that he died.”

“He has tended that site since he was six,
On his mothers birthday for ninety-four years,
He has picked one rose to honor her,
The rose has a name it’s called “Loves Fallen Tears.”

“Today,” he continued, “is John’s funeral day,
Today would have been his mother’s birthday too.
I think you have helped John fulfill a kept promise,
Since he could not pick that rose brought by you.”

Was fate the chance meeting on that road,
Or something of life’s mystery not to understand?
It now has been forty years since that day,
Still I wake up feeling the rose in my hand.

I found the place where the rose bush grows,
Just where he said it would be.
Cared for by the forest and the creek bend,
‘Neath the branches of a grand red oak tree.

Each year on that memorial of John’s death,
I travel to that place across the glade,
With joy in my heart at being so honored,
I select a rose and place it where John is laid.

I often think what will happen at my passing,
But the answer you have already been told.
Two strangers will meet walking down that dusty lane,
One younger the other white haired, bent and old.

They will walk a distance through magical woods,
A conversation of past memories will begin to ensue.
Then the old man will stop, smile and ask for a favor,
Maybe the promise and the rose will be passed to you.

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