Words from the Farmers’ Market, Karl Patten


Karl Patten*

“This is where all the shorthorns meet,”
Says a farmer next to me, each of us
Facing a Market “Gentlemen” urinal.
“Yep,” his buddy concurs, sidling up
To the ceramic excessional on my right.

Yep, the shorthorns meet there, all
Splattering away. Where else? Here’s
The equal place, this is a democracy.

“Every two hours,” pronounces the farmer.
His friend says “Yep,” and I agree.
Shorthorns piss every two hours.

All of us shake off, flush, no one
Looks at another. Zipped up,
We leave, very separately, to return
To our own pastures, begin grazing again.

There’s another poem that keeps trying
To creep into that one, a poem which
Wants to say that cattle talk’s OK,
That men are all alike, shorthorned,
And face those gaping ivory dendata
Every day, staring into the swirl.

It wants to ask, “Yes, shorthorned
We surely are, but does that provide
An excuse for not changing the world?
Plow and sow that acre-and-half
On the hillside with barley or rye.
It’s a risk, take it. Change is what
This world needs. Who better than
A Farmer to start? Growing, harvesting,
Is from the beginning. Let’s forget
Men’s shortcomings, let’s not flush
The future, let’s remember shorthorns
Supply milk and meat.”

And so,
This other poem insisted on being part
Of something small that grew larger.
* From Spaces and Lines (Dorcas Press, 2002), pp. 93-94

Comment: Words from the Farmers’ Market

The events and words at the beginning of this poem are all straight from life. So it happened that Wednesday.

I knew almost from the start of writing this poem that I wanted more from that little urinal encounter, but I did not know just how to continue on. It took a good amount of time before I realized that I could say, “There’s another poem that keeps trying to creep into that one;” in other words be frank with the reader. And since farmers were involved I could imagine stepping into their world and say something I needed to say: “Change is what/ This world needs.” I felt fortunate that farmers were central because of the importance of growing valuable things; they are at the heart of life. At that point it became easier than I had earlier thought, and I could still keep material from my fortuitous meeting, including not flushing down the future and holding on to that delightful word, “shorthorns.” It is true that the first part insisted on being larger, and so it became.

Karl Patten
August 2011


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