The Harvested Man


He nurses his coffee, by himself most days,

But occasionally with the one or two others

Who constitute the bulk of the clientele of the diner

(The low-sling building faceless, nameless

Although those who remember a day

When the village was at least borderline prosperous

And home to more than a few hundred wan souls

Still refer to it as “Kitty’s Place”,

Though its namesake has been dead and gone some five decades),

One of the few going concerns which implausibly remain,

Seemingly through nothing more than sheer inertia,

In the drab little downtown along Canton Street.


He languishes over his cup for as long as the mood hits him,

There being no discernible reason to hurry

(Indeed, the diner itself, once open before sunrise

Now dark and silent until a leisurely seven-thirty or so),

His place not really a working farm these days,

Just a smattering of beef cattle

(Milking and stripping out more than he can manage now)

And what acreage of corn he can get in the ground.

Eventually, he totters out of the front door,

One sleeve of his shirt rolled and pinned up

(Its former occupying member removed

After the incident with the ancient and malevolent corn binder),

Moving toward his truck with an all-but-one-legged gait,

His left-leg all but jigsaw-puzzled by an overturned Farmall

Some years back (most days he reckoned he’d tipped the tractor

By failing to shift his balance to accommodate driving one-armed,

Though if he was in a black enough mood he’d put it down

To an old Iroquois curse placed on the entire St. Lawrence valley.)


One could say, if he was a poet or some other damn philosophic fool,

That these partial sacrifices served to ward off some even more awful finality.

He would have none of that, of course—in his own cosmology

The gods and demons most likely have bigger fish to fry,

And, as to the prospect of some inexorable wreck and ruin,

He is of the opinion that what he was given up to this point

Is both ample and sufficient.


(Created, such as it is, for Isadora Gruye’s Out Of Standard challenge at Real Toads. It’s not exactly what she asked for, but Izy is very understanding, and I suspect she knows I don’t take direction particularly well)


14 thoughts on “The Harvested Man

  1. You do a great job creating characters that draw us into their desperate worlds, and you do it with just a few well-placed lines. The fact that we empathize with them on such short notice is a testament to your skill with words.
    Fine work,

  2. What a picture you painted of that torn old farmer. Not farmers here, but do have thirteen acres and an massive old Farmall–I always tell my husband he can’t take that tractor out into the woods unless I am home. I do not want to come home to a bloody mess some day!

  3. WOW! I can see him so clearly. Interesting to follow his train of thought and/or philosophy. You have told him well and true, and I especially love the closing two lines, where he finds what he has been given so far “ample and sufficient”. So well done.

  4. hey wk….very glad my prompt conjured something forth your starry brain. I find it hard to find new ways of complimenting your work, and I feel we are at a place in our friendship where you can assume accolades before the first word hits the comment box 🙂

    Here, I will highlight what I enjoyed most of this piece. I enjoy the way the story of the main character starts with coffee then unfolds from the tiny diner, out into the main street, then into the fields. It’s an interesting progression. The concept of a character’s body defined by farming mishaps is lovely….I may use this to write my own mechanical harvest piece, still missing and not posted.

    lovely. As always you bring more to the table then we are worthy of. Viva la

  5. No small part of what I enjoy in your work is that it’s about other things and people. There are many (often myself included) who write obsessively of themselves – which can become a little narcissistic and claustrophobic.
    Look out for those who look out…

  6. You have taken this idea of the mechanical harvest a step further, to show the harvest that has been taken from the farmer in terms of body parts, functionality and spiritual well-being. The underlying story of the failure of the small farmer unravels with an inexorable credulity, until we are left wondering if it is fate or curse which will be the end of this one man’s endeavours (and so many others like him).

  7. This is the third poem I’ve read about a diner and its familiars in the last few days–did you by any chance read the post at Poetry Foundation about David Lynch suggesting in an interview that poets could find a lot of material in a diner also, or is this sheer fate and serendipity? Of the three I’ve read, I really feel yours is most alive and real. Because you’ve brought this place into such sharp relief in all its inner and outer layers through your excellent execution of the personalities, the habitat, and, not least of all, the spirit of Izy’s prompt. Enjoyed it very much.

    1. I didn’t, but I’ve certainly been to the well of the rural-not-quite-dead-but-the-next-best-thing diner before (come to think of it, I have written one piece about a diner that is no more), as I find it’s fertile ground.

  8. an old Iroquois curse 🙂 What grabbed me was how he doesn’t blame anyone… perhaps his lack of balance, and he figures he’s lucky as fate could have dealt a meaner blow… Wow. Personal simplicity, but possessed with a depth of character that few of us today will ever attain.

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