Robert’s shadow, I followed my father
from vineyard to orchard behind tractor
and disk, stomped clods in the fresh-tilled
ground, inhaled the damp earth turned,
blackbirds like sea gulls diving behind us.
I dreamed of driving the once-red Cornbinder,
leaky muffler loud with each explosion,
each spark to gas vapor, its lean cowling
layered white with years of Parathion
in the 50s, before making perfect furrows.
That well-kept look of cultivation turning
the nitrogen of weeds and nettles under
with tankage and manure for California gold
when farmers worked the earth and added
more to the soil than chemicals and drip
irrigation. To this day I make the sound
of tractors in my throat, remember
the Case 300 disking steep orchard rows—
and just before it stalled out, front wheels
lifting off the ground—the dependable lurch
to the left to make another round.