by Mark Trechock
I was carrying petitions to save
the North Dakota law restricting
most corporations from owning farms.
Arne told me to try Bakkegard,
a guy runs cattle up near Wheelock
and races pickups backwards on the oval.
Late when I got there, foggy, dark
missed his driveway, stopped
and backed up to his machine shed.
Asked him the usual questions,
he didn’t want the big money to break
the market and call the shots.
Then he signed with that kind of lefty
hand position over the top, like he was
writing backwards and upside down.
Couldn’t help asking how fast
he raced backing up, and did he lean out
or use the rear view mirror?
No more than 35, he said, it’s
just about all you can do, they
don’t engineer them for speedy retreats.
Plus, he said, it’s just one guy against
the clock, otherwise they’d all
be piled up after five laps.
Said he didn’t trust mirrors,
drove the fifty miles twisted up
like a corkscrew, looking backwards.
I got into my car to head home, no traffic
on the gravel, how hard could it be
just to reverse to the county road?
Got halfway there, shaking, light-headed
and feeling like throwing up.
No one was watching. I turned around.
Why I Didn’t Have Egg Rolls
Arne called me from the highway,
headed for home with a ’38 Ford pickup
trussed up on his flatbed trailer,
missing a headlight and rear fender
but otherwise pretty much all there,
just like him, he said he reckoned,
and could we meet for dinner
at the Chinese place with the good egg rolls,
he’d be coming in from up north
in maybe thirty, forty minutes.
It’s a twenty minute walk, a fair day,
so I set off on foot, chatted with my neighbor,
who was setting out tomatoes,
detoured through the campus
then up the back way past the Frisbee golf course,
got there five minutes late, no Arne,
realized I forgot my cell phone,
waited in the May sunshine.
Don’t mind waiting, like to watch people.
A woman buying coffee over at the kiosk,
voice to raise the dead, Oklahoma maybe.
Three guys speaking Spanish, dirty jeans,
laughing, making money, far from home.
Cop car heading north, full siren.
No Arne. Walked back home,
Arne’s message on the cell phone.
Traffic clogged up on the north end,
damn near sideswiped by a semi,
headed west around the mall,
fifteen cars lined up at the stop sign,
two cops with a Cadillac, trunk open,
turned back north through the parking lot
and all the way around the west side
till I found the first gravel road heading west.
Maybe next time.
The mail that mattered finally came,
all the plump zeroes in the right place,
and the woman who inherited the farm
gathered it up with the Penney’s catalog,
and took it up the dusty drive to the house,
reviewing the mental list that had kept growing
since the man with the greenish tie
sat at the kitchen table back before calving,
spreading the draft lease on legal size paper,
its 8 point type spilling down over the breakfast crumbs
from the tabletop to the linoleum.
She thought of the crew cab pickup,
the air seeder and the Harley,
the trip to Hawaii to see her sister,
new linoleum for that matter, and a real mud room,
maybe set up an actual will,
and something for the Lutheran cemetery fund,
the thought of maybe even a winter place in Arizona,
a retirement, which she never dreamed she’d have—
all this without barrel of oil pumped.
But if it was, it would be a quarter mile from her house
or more, she saw to that at signing.
And if not, she didn’t really mind,
it might even be better,
she’d rather pick her own future anyway,
she thought as she opened the door,
got out from under the sun’s knowing gaze,
and tossed the check on the table
among the things she could control.