The Way My Father Farmed

by William Jolliff Issue: Spring 2015
after weeks of Wendell Berry

The great Kentucky poet claims it was wrong
to farm the way my father learned to farm,
clearing out fencerows, shooting the ground full
of nitrogen, spraying for broadleaf weeds

and grass and insects and God knows what else,
all to pull two hundred bushels off an acre
of hillside, forsaking cows to the dairymen
and beef to the giant western feedlots.

Wendell's right.  The way my father farmed
was hell on women and good horses, and one
of the women was the earth herself.  She paid
for how he plowed her: cancer, dead creeks,

a bad heart.  But was there some blessedness,
too, in all that persistent attention?
One small man dying slowly in Ohio,
doing his damnedest to feed a hungry world?

William Jolliff, originally from Magnetic Springs, Ohio, currently serves as Professor of English at George Fox University, just south of Portland, Oregon. His poetry and criticism have appeared in West Branch, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Appalachian Journal, Poet Lore, Midwest Quarterly, and other journals. His new collection, Twisted Shapes of Light, is forthcoming in the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books.