The Oxcart Man, by Donald Hall

As I passed the entourage of monster farm machinery gathered at the edge of the field yesterday, I noticed a truck piled high with seed potatoes that meant the season had begun for the potato chip contract.  I remembered this poem, “The Oxcart Man,”  by Donald Hall which was illustrated in a children’s book years ago.  I love the history, the rhythms of the work and the seasons that dictated life long ago, a cycle that took in a whole year of labor, renewal and subsistence.

The Oxcart Man, by Donald Hall

In October of the year,

he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,

counting the seed, counting

the cellar’s portion out,

and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey

in combs, linen, leather

tanned from deerhide,

and vinegar in a barrel

hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.

He walks by ox’s head, ten days

to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,

and the bag that carried potatoes,

flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose

feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.

When the cart is sold he sells the ox,

harness and yoke, and walks

home, his pockets heavy

with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire’s light in November cold

stitches new harness

for next year’s ox in the barn,

and carves the yoke, and saws planks

building the cart again.

 

 

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