Look At Your Hands

I have lived on a farm, not just visited. 
I have trudged through great mountains of pig shit, pled 
With a damn milk cow as she stood on my foot 
For four gallons of sweet cream, as white as sand 
On Ozarks levee. 

I have made salt butter and cream cheese, pressed 
The cloths of thin whey, and drank the honeyed 
Cider from apples of Autumn’s dry boot, 
And heard music from a festival band. 
You are same as me. 

The rain that melted the cotton castings bled 
The choked city gutters all the same, and fed 
My fields and your fair parks where birds sing like flutes. 
Work in slick mud or cold offices takes hands  
Of natural men. 

Pastoral poetry is particularly interesting to me. I spent my high school years living on a farm my father bought after he retired from the Marine Corps. We had cows, chickens, pigs, and grew crops. It was hard work, and in many respects it was enjoyable, but now that I’ve lived on both sides of the concept, the city and the farm, I find that the similarities outweigh the differences. No matter where you live or what you’re doing, you’re working hard and often in situations that you do not enjoy. 

Many pastoral poems romanticize the idea of the rural because the poets went there on vacation. It isn’t so much the place itself that holds the wonder as it is the experience of being somewhere not as familiar. Granted, there are aspects of rural life that strike a chord in the human heart, such as proximity to the natural world. Those experiences are not as common in the city, and therefore being near those in the rural world does hold some mystique. The love of nature present in pastorals is present in my poem, but also the difficulty, the hardship of dealing with livestock.  

There are many wonderful things in the rural life, like visiting levees, drinking fresh fruit juice, going to small town festivals. But the difficulties of shoveling shit, struggling with massive creatures for their products, those are also present, and create in my mind a paradigm that life in either the city or the country are relatively the same, just with different set pieces.  

I reworked this poem after taking revision notes from a collective of fellow poets. A major note I was given was to include another verse, to flesh out the concept of sameness. I also cleaned up the form so that the second stanza is reflective of 10 syllabic lines, while the first and third have 11. The original poem is below. I also changed the title of the piece, to reflect the association with the hands that do the work in the poem, both in the cities and in the farmland.

Waking to The Pastoral Dream

I have lived on a farm, not just visited.
I have trudged through great mountains of pig shit, pled
With a damn milk cow as she stood on my foot
For four gallons of sweet cream, as white as sand
On Ozarks levee.

I have made salt butter and cream cheese, pressed
The cloths of thin whey, and drank the honeyed
Cider from the apples of Autumn’s dry boot,
And heard the music of a festival band.
You are same as me.

Published by AC Moore

My goal is to one day change the world in the same way Shakespeare did: by infusing the thoughts of the human race with such language and turn-of-phrase that they say them daily, and never even know it was I who wrote it.

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