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Ox Cart Man

In October of the year,
he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,   
counting the seed, counting   
the cellar’s portion out,   
and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.

He packs wool sheared in April, honey
in combs, linen, leather   
tanned from deerhide,   
and vinegar in a barrel
hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.

He walks by his ox’s head, ten days
to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,   
and the bag that carried potatoes,
flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose   
feathers, yarn.

When the cart is empty he sells the cart.   
When the cart is sold he sells the ox,   
harness and yoke, and walks
home, his pockets heavy
with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,

and at home by fire’s light in November cold   
stitches new harness
for next year’s ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks   
building the cart again.

—Donald Hall

“Ox Cart Man” from THE SELECTED POEMS OF DONALD HALL by Donald Hall.

Copyright © 2015 by Donald Hall.

Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Donald Hall (1928-2018) is the author of 22 poetry collections, including Exiles and Marriages (1955), The Happy Man (1986), and The One Day (1988), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Hall served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2006-2007.

Learn more about Donald Hall.