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December 16, 2023


Robert Warf

When my father takes his rototiller out by the hand, mother takes me by mine and tells me to hide, tells me I should too, because when she worked O2 in the ER a man was gurnied in with a rototiller stuck in his legs. Churned through him.

Out him.

Eat him up.

A nurse held the handles from the

front as they wheeled him down

body flooded hallways drenched

swirling red.

Strobing red.

In and out.

They leaned over him, mother

worked the O2. He saw the damage

in the reflection in their eyes. Mother

tells me he could have if he opened


He hadn’t. Shouldn’t have.

The man in the gurney passed out as

the blades rotated deeper and deeper

in. Past. See, he was using a special

kind of tine.

Teeth. Slashers.

You use them in soil with

roots. In heavy patches of

them. He was in deep when

his machine got caught in

them. Roots. Tangled. When

his wife heard him being

eaten, she couldn’t stop it.

Couldn’t turn it back.

Teeth eat,

let me tell you with mine.

She didn’t

know how to

turn it off,

didn’t know

where the

button was, if

there was a

button, there

was so much

red, every

where, in the

air, in her

nose, inside

her, coming

out the soil,

bubbling out

exposed veins

in open legs, it

just kept

tilling and

tilling until it

ate its way


My mother tells me it’s the worst thing

she’s ever seen.

She tells father he should put his away.

When I see father take his rototiller out,

I put my eyes

away. Look

away. But son,

but son, he says,

you’ll be out here

one day in your

own garden, he

says, it’s quite

easy, you just

turn it on, the

ignition, pull the

ignition if it’s the

cord one, see I’m

not being

technical right

now, even a

know it all like

you can say you

know this and

know it, he says,

I’m looking out

for you, he says,

Looking, he says.

You know this,

he says.

I am at my window. At the glass

seeing past my reflection. My

father is out in his garden with

his machine working earth over.

Mother is in her office with

windows and doors sealed,

buried in calls, anything to

drown out the swirling red. My

father is out in it with his red

earmuffs on and his strong legs

in short shorts smoking what

comes out his lips. When he’s

finished, he drinks wine from

the bottle held at the throat, tells

me the crucial ingredient in his

twenty year run of unmatched

vegetable gardens is the soil.

The purity of his. How there are

no rocks. No roots. Not a thing

to block his vegetables’ roots

reaching deep brown into earth.

Snaking down. Strangling each

other out with spindles. Hands.