Who Only Stand and Wait

He buried the coin alone, down in a field,
As mothers bury stillbirths; partly shamed,
He cursed and grumbled as he dug and kneeled
Because a part of him lay dead, unnamed,
But partly in relief. To plant it there,
In the roots and network of his life and round,
And ransom it with time (as he could spare,
And then to give it up,) would just compound
His debts and losses. Time, in course, elapsed.
The highway roared and stretched its asphalt span.
He sat and watched the year as it collapsed
And ashed his butt-end in a soda can.

The ground froze over it. In grays and whites,
The snow concealed it. Then the reckoning nights

And days brought back the sun and rain; the brown
Mud clotted blood-like in clay rutted gushes,
Then he could see it — like a smoothened crown
Of bone, or like a granite rock that pushes
Up and emerges from receding earth.
He covered it again with common sense,
His shovel jarring on a boulder’s girth
And stumbling his wiry hands and joints.
He waited, rolling cigarettes and staring
Down the new highway running past the farm;
His terror past confusion, hope, or caring,
A fifth of Gordon’s squatting near his arm.

The world was coming slowly, back to life.
He drank, and whittled with his pocketknife.

Once more, the year declined to harvest-time,
And now the combines reaped the autumn corn,
Dismembering field mice and snakes. His crime
Committed by omission left him worn;
And fear had ripened to the kind of fate
He could submit to with his kind of pride.
The Boss came back at last from town, though late,
Demanding both the coin, and more beside.
His wages struck from the accounting book,
He hopped a train and found his way down south,
Dying of thirst beside a dried-up brook,
His black tongue shriveled in his open mouth.

He served a master hard as life, or stone;
Or Death, who reaps where he has never sown.