Just Once

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In flat, flat country, dusty and dull
in an early spring, along a highway
I’d driven more than a thousand times
to and from work in the city, I saw
a man of indeterminate age, in a hat
that shaded his face, in faded overalls,
plowing with horses, not showy big
Belgian workhorses such as you’d see
at a county fair, but ordinary horses,
one flat black, the other one white
spattered with handfuls of brown.

They were turning gray stubble
with a one-bottom, walk-behind plow,
that field like an entranceway carpet
after a long, muddy winter, with
a new, black rubber runner being
slowly rolled out to cover it. This
beyond an old rail spur grown up
in weeds, no grassy lane to turn into
and follow, rubber-tires bouncing
up and over the roadbed, that rusty
border, then to go clattering down
on spoked wheels into his century.

I saw this just once, and although
I drove past the next morning
and again in the afternoon they were
gone. For years since, I’ve looked over
when passing. The rails have been
pulled up for scrap. There’s a barn
gray in the distance, the open door
blackened by shadow. It could be
that they’re resting inside, the man
and his team standing in harness
back out of the light of the seasons,
looking over the corn to the highway.