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Plowed – a Poem by Nora Shepard

by | Mar 7, 2023



Newton School, Asheville, NC 1956

In the third grade we were very serious
about contour plowing. We poured over
the artless pictures in our textbooks,
inspected the patterns placed before us:
the swirls and folds in the badly colored fields
of our rough pages. We pondered crops, locusts,
their risings, their appetites and careless litter—
the cast off husks of themselves. And how
the earth curves and tilts, where the rain flows
cutting its channels, erosion rivering

the plains, prairies, mountains, farmers’ fields.
The teacher spoke and all of us turned
at once to page fifty six and fixed
upon the picture of a combine, a strange vessel
chugging through wheat. A machine as big
as a house? We lived in a mountain town.
What space would be needed for such a thing? But
on we plodded through the disasters of deep plowing
and dust bowls. Deserts. While we pondered
and day-dreamed, the soils of all the world

mingled, swirling around the globe in great clouds,
building like cities, thousands of tons, red soil
and black, and sand. Africa settling on Alabama,
Texas on Scotland, England’s dust up the noses
of Egyptians. We never noticed the grit piling
against the stuck windows of our classroom.
We wrote our answers to the chapter questions,
sweaty fists gripped around fat pencils, grime,
smudge, smearing our pages. Dirt. Soil.
From Pakistan, Patagonia, Baja, Kalamazoo?

A version of this poem first appeared in the Southern Indiana Review.​

Nora Hutton Shepard

Nora Hutton Shepard is a poet and alumna of N.C. State’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program, as well a graduate of the MFA Writer’s Program at Warren Wilson College. She taught poetry courses at N.C. State before relocating to Davidson in 2019 to be closer to her daughter’s family. Nora has quickly acclimated to life in Davidson and is a wonderful addition to our Community.

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