Tag Archives: farming


The real old boys who found their weather in the stars,
within explosive storms on the sun, years in advance—
would be dismayed with how we farm today.
My father’s shadow, I followed disc and tractor straining
to turn the earth, blackbirds diving like swarming sea gulls
behind us, as we broke clods in lace-up boots to test the soil.
Trading energy, no one cultivates today to turn green weeds 
and stinging nitrogen back into the ground—no one marks-out
furrows in sandy loam, no one irrigates with a hoe.
We spray chemicals (‘herbicides’ sounds nice and friendly)
in the naked space between the trunks of vines and trees.
We run trillions of miles of black plastic for a sip in drips
to save water for more crops we can seldom sell at a profit.
Still the perpetual motion of new money: each depreciation
offsetting taxes for urban investors on the next farm 
they sell to one another like summer homes and yachts.
Why bother to predict tomorrow’s weather when farms
change hands in a swirl of smoke and yellow steel? 





The Emperor vines were a hundred years old
when I was a teen learning to irrigate
granddad’s thirsty vineyard, whole pump
down five furrows—hope and wait.

You had to fill the deep sand up
before it carried water down the vine row.
In the old days, Coffelts spread the pump out,
then went fishing in the pines for two weeks.

Much has changed the way we think
about water—wells deeper, trees on drip.
The earth sinks with the weight of farming
until nothing’s left to keep it up.





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.






We had water enough for play in furrows
with scraps of wood, leaves for sails,
regattas on rivers pumped from underground.

All the magic that children take for granted
swirled to the hum of electricity, twenty-horse
pumps like Buddhas squat in orchard rows

my father farmed for wagonloads of fruit
ripe for the rail, packed by women’s hands
for the road on diesel trucks to distant places.

His silhouette crosses deep within vineyard rows,
early morning, late afternoon, hoe in hand—
his pirate’s cutlass, swashbuckling open-topped

overshoes—checking water, irrigating grapes
at seventy, or so I think at sixty-eight, knowing
now what drew him to the earth he farmed.




We are farming just beyond
your city’s limits to sustain growth
by building houses, irrigating fields

to feed you. We are drilling deeper
wells all around your sufficient
neighborhood mapped on asphalt.

Either side of the fuzzy border,
we get old, get tired of adapting
to mistakes—unlike bugs, we live

too long to develop genetics
our children’s children will need
in an unimaginable future.

History will say our families farmed
the San Joaquin for 200 years
before running out of water

fifty years from now—our thin dust
upon dry layers of earth stacked above
a depleting Pleistocene sea.



My head spins
another yarn
about the old days,
the old ways
we found comfort
with a job done.

The harvest of Emperors,
wobbly wagonloads
of purple grapes
picked and swamped
from field to shed
before the rains came.

The many hands
wearing a day’s work
beneath September’s sun
well into dark
for a dollar an hour—
each rich
with a small part
of another accomplishment
that dared God’s
impending forces
to escape with the crop.

Another currency
we all shared
with profanity
meant for the moment—
damning Him
and ourselves
when we failed.





The wells run deeper now
past the Pleistocene and into salt
at half a million bucks a pop
for the last of the water
as the Valley collapses
under the weight
of farming investors
for the moment
leaving Mom and Pop
and forty acres
high and dry
with one last roll
for agribusiness—
one last extraction
from a thirsty future.

No dirt farmers left
to turn the earth,
make sweet love
with furrows
and pruning sheers
for a crop to harvest,
wobbly wagon loads
to railroad towns
grown bright and urban
in a couple of lifetimes
farming the future.