NGV #1: October

 October (Saison d'octobre) 1878 Jules BASTIEN-LEPAGE
October (Saison d’octobre) 1878 Jules BASTIEN-LEPAGE

Women gather in autumn to brush

root vegetables clean. They lean towards soil, reach

livelihood in ritual squat. Slow season weighed down—

oppressive sweat. Methodical rolling potatoes,

weighted, weighed, into the folds of their skirts. Dirt

sticks to hands, fine granules of dried cow shit staining

perfect, white linens as gravity calls. Cawing

pungent at midday without rest. They hum together.

Perspiration under kneeling bodies creeps

between crooks of knees, makes a home. Roots ready for eating.

Shipped south to Paris—hibernation stock—peasants’ brows

in the field forgotten. Aprons tuft out, shredded with effort, cheeks

bloody at pink breaths waiting for the sluggish crew,

tired with long hours

loiter at other paddocks of the same crop. Field rust scattered

over faces makes mess, shows them together, scars of labour.

Women chatter, absently picking wicker, fingers callused

from years of kneading groundbugs out of good cabbage. Pray,

pray potatoes from this harvest rot slower

than the last.