The Imbecile

He lived with his father, though he was sixty himself.
He worked at what he could do, which was enough;
bucking hay, sweeping, shoveling, stacking.
You wouldn’t let him drive a truck;
he couldn’t get a license.
You wouldn’t even trust him on a forklift.
Let the town boys do it; maybe you’d


catch them cutting cat’s asses someday,
but they drove back and forth to work every day,
they at least knew the brake from the accelerator.
George didn’t, and it was too late for him to learn.
If he went off a loading dock, you’d have a mess
on your hands, and what would his old man do?

George’d go places the town boys wouldn’t go, though;
up a mountain of seed that the auger was piling high.
He’d take his shovel with him, knock the top off,
then come running down like a—like the fool he was.
“Got to move that thing else that seed’s gonna come
pourin’ in the front office.”  He was like that,


everything he did had some great justification.
He’d go down in the pit where them boys
wouldn’t when wet wheat would clump up.
He’d shovel, all ass and elbows, ‘til the thing was clear.
The smell down there didn’t bother him.
By the time the boys got their handkerchiefs tied on their faces,
he’d be done–just like they planned it.

They used to tease him, them boys, playin’ him for a fool.
There’s no denying that’s what he was.  He couldn’t count
the bags of grain on a boxcar except by hand—he didn’t
know his times tables, couldn’t multiply.  They’d laugh
at the old-fashioned words he used like “chivaree” and “sparkin’,”
but I notice once he’d introduced them to an expression, they kept it.

At first they’d use it kidding around, but after a while
it would take a place in their wits and on their tongues.
One day I found the college boy with a pad of paper
and a pencil, leaning against a fence while we watched
the winch on the tow truck pull the truck out of the mud
at the bottom of the pasture.  “What are ya writin’?”


I asked him. “Just takin’ down a few of George’s expressions,” he said.
“Like what?” I asked. “See those clouds coming towards the ground?”
he asked.  I looked, and there were clumps of vapor headed down,
as if we had ascended, and not they descended unearthly upon us.

“George said it was ‘lowering’—I believe that usage is correct,
even if he doesn’t know it.  I’m going to check my dictionary
when I get home tonight.” “Even a blind hog finds an acorn
every now and then,” the boss said.  He was angry because
he had to pay the man with the truck, plus us, for a lost morning.


The clouds passed across the field, as if we were on top of a mountain,
instead of standing between windrows three feet high.
From “Town Folk & Country People”


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