Always a Reckoning, by JIMMY CARTER


There always seemed to be a need

for reckoning in early days.

What came in equaled what went out

like oscillating ocean waves.

On the farm, our wages matched

the work we did in woods and fields,

how many acres plowed and hoed,

how much syrup was distilled,

how many pounds of cotton picked,

how much cordwood cut and stacked.

All things had to balance out.

I had a pony then that lacked

a way to work and pay her way,

except that every year or two

Lady had a colt we sold,

but still for less than what was due

to buy fodder, hay, and corn

she ate at times she couldn’t be

on pasture.

Neither feed nor colts

meant all that much that I could see,

but still there was a thing about

a creature staying on our place

that none of us could eat or plow,

did not give eggs, or even chase

a fox or rabbit, that was sure

to rile my father.

We all knew

that Lady’s giving me a ride

paid some on her debt, lieu

of other ways--but there would be

some times I didn’t get around

to riding in my off-work hours.

And I was sure, when Daddy frowned

at some mistake I might’ve made, he

would be asking when he could,

“How long sinc you rode Lady?”

From “Always a Reckoning” by Jimmy Carter. (Times Books: $18; 131 pp.)

1994 Reprinted by permission.