Looking out of the picture, a wild-haired,
gentle-eyed young German man stands
before a blackboard of incomprehensible equations.
Meanwhile, back in the quotidian,
Carver takes the school to the poor.
He outfits an open truck
with shelves for his jars
of canned fruit and compost,
bins for his crocker sacks of seeds.
He travels roads barely discernible
on the county map,
teaching former field-slaves
how to weave ditch weeds
into pretty place mats,
how to keep their sweet potatoes from rotting
before winter hunger sets in,
how to make preacher-pleasing
mock fried chicken
without slaughtering a laying hen.
He notes patches of wild chicory
the farmers could collect
to free themselves from their taste
for high-priced imported caffeine.
He and his student assistants bump along
shoulder to shoulder in the high cab,
a braided scale of laughter
trailing about their raised dust.
Today, Carver is explaining,
as far as he understands it,
that fellow Einstein’s “Special Theory of Relativity.”
He’s hardly gotten to Newtonian Space
when a platoon of skinny dogs
announces the next farm.
As they pull up,
a black man and his boy straighten,
two rows of shin-high cotton apart.
With identical gestures they remove
straw hats, wipe their foreheads with their sleeves.
Their welcoming glance meets Carver’s eyes
at the velocity of light.
1905 – Carver initiates the Jesup wagon, outfitting a horse-drawn wagon to take his agricultural teaching to the rural poor.
© Marilyn Nelson