1918 Huber Light Four

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Image courtesy Mike Pray
Mike Pray, Lake Stevens, Washington, never expected his hobby to become the subject of a poem. But in this case, one artist influenced another. Mike handcrafted a 1918 Huber Light Four entirely of wood (featured in the April 2011 issue of Farm Collector). He was invited to display the half-scale model at the Washington State Fair – and that is where poet Linda Bierds discovered it.

To say that it glowed,
the tractor’s half-scale replica,
its twenty polished woods seamless and separate
as a tract of furrows filled with rain,

is to offer the finish before the start,
the worm before the jig. Yet to say late sun,
cast through the fair’s barn-turned-exhibition hall,
burnished it, as it burnished

the jars of yellow beets, shifts agency
to a higher power. Three years, the woodworker said,
two thousand hours drawing walnut’s brindled light,
and whatever light the willow offered,

the cedar and birch, the African mahogany.
Almost alchemy, how sanding transformed
wood to grain. Almost chemistry: friction, air,
vapors beneath the polish cloth—almost

complete combustion, the perfect half-scale whole of it
clean as the flames some candles offer. Though to say
that it drew from its absent shape,
as candles do, suggests a labor less touched

by time, or a time less touched by absence.
Hour by hour, something like harmony
passed through the room, while something like melanin rose in the model’s polished wood,

in the Kalif dahlias and sawdust floor, then darkened
a table-top tapestry, the spokes of grain and braided vines arranged like a living wagon wheel,
and darkened the wheel hub’s gathered quince

and a slender ripple of corn silk wind—
illusion’s ancient artifact:
thin strands stretching out from a back-cast rim
to show that a stillness was turning.

From Roget’s Illusion by Linda Bierds, published by Marian Wood/Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Linda Bierds.

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