When you first read my cards,
the Tarot deck turned up the devil,
grinning, a hard red, then death,
a black shadow and a half-moon scythe.
Change, you said, as my face paled,
not death, necessarily.
Then the hippie at the truck stop,
on my way back from Hesston,
I was filling my tank. He read:
the devil, dapper red, clicking hoofed feet,
and death, pale-skulled,
his scythe reflecting moonlight.
Entrapment, he said, addiction.
Did I know where to score some weed?
At the Kwik Shop,
floating through the parking lot,
a playing card, the etched back curled with age.
I pick it up. Through hard red dirt:
the Ace of Spades.
The Unbearable Hardness of Grain
It is a performance art,
wailing along, the sickle-bars
chiming, the great wheel of a header
out front with frilly fingers gathering,
the old flathead six a few feet behind
my head singing out a racket. I skim
the field with scant inches to spare,
hope not to run the platform into
the washout, hope to avoid a pricey
crunch and thump of metal on dirt.
The land, no matter how one plows,
will yield what it will. One can
manipulate it a bit, push up more
here or there with a shot of ammonia,
a dusting of Roundup. But the land
conspires with wind and rain and sun,
a constant but fickle affair. Fine then,
grow what you’ll grow: I’ll be here
to cut it, to mow down your lax, spindly
little stalks or your heads so full they nod
all the same—whether you’re brown
and mean or every acre gold, bunched
kernels knotting together and clogging
my machine. The dust that packs
my nose with snot, the fair haze
that itches every inch, it smells,
it feels in every squirming cinch,
Picking the Straws Out
We picked the straws out
from between the sickle bars and the cylinder
one by one, me with my pen-knife’s dull blade,
my blind uncle with a small flathead screwdriver.
The points of our tools stuck in the combine’s heart;
beneath, we’d removed a panel, worked
our fingers up and under in an awkward squat.
The advantage was his, feeling his way, deft, into the dumb
steel of the machine, while I tried desperately to see.
Lael Ewy is a writer, editor, and Lecturer in English at Wichita State University. His work has run the gamut from writing curriculum for Kansas’ peer specialist training program to writing poems for Denver Quarterly, New Orleans Review, and others. He is the OnWords commentator for KMUW, Wichita’s public radio station and the editor and co-founder of EastWesterly Review, an online journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com.