Nan Lundeen
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The Oracle, a poem from Black Dirt Days

The Oracle, by Nan Lundeen

Louie fiddles with the dial to clear
static, the countertop Motorola
spitting out the forecast;
the folks listen every day over
mettwurst on rye
canned peaches or pears
clinking cups of Folgers;
the oilcloth-covered table
their station to catch the weather,
prepare to pray more.
 
Pray to shield the corn
from hail, one summer’s
murderous assault stripped all ninety acres,
orphaned ears
forever immature;
pray to shield the farm from punishing rain
battering our Ford driving to church;
the radio crackles
twister sighted at Elvira.
 
We turn for home,
find the neighbor’s barn
a pile of pick-up sticks,
wonder if their cattle levitated
like magical beings
over patchwork fields
to die dashed with more dignity
than could have been imagined
cleaved by a Chicago slaughterhouse blade.
 
Pray to shield against
too much rain, not enough rain,
rain at the wrong time,
rain in the fall and the corn won’t dry for
picking and if we can’t pick by
Thanksgiving snow might smother our harvest
and if the fields are mud-clogged in spring
planting will be late
and harvest might not make it.
 
Or maybe it would and all
would be good.
 
Pray for high prices
when the cattle are ready to ship,
the right amount of marble
in their soon-to-be steaks;
Louie tunes in to the stock report,
shakes his head—
how long can they wait,
and then they go, the beef on hooves,
lowing inside the slatted cattle carrier down
our lane to the Elvira Road and on to Highway 30
rolling toward the inevitable slaughterhouse blade.
 
On that day
will the market fall or rise,
Louie perching on the pen’s fence
where the cattle stir, uneasy
snuffling the stockyard stench,
regardless,
one of them comes back
to our farm table,
stew meat, hamburger for spaghetti sauce,
slimy liver Marian recoils from
but Louie likes fried up with onions.
On that day,
will they bring enough?
 
Louie listens, Marian prays,
Louie smokes, Marian listens,
I like Sky King’s niece, Penny.
She knows how to fly.