Lavonne J. Adams


MURPHY WAGONS

     "I want to know what you are doing on this road.
      You scare all the buffalo away."
—Sitting Bull


Consider the weight of what was carried:
7,000 pounds of blankets, suspenders, boots,
gin, whiskey, rum, raisins, sardines,
dirks, pistols, chisels, hatchets.
Yet even a wagon can be a work of art.
Joseph Murphy gauged his wagons' aged
wood by the feel of its grain, searching
for what was most durable. Only saplings
were lathed into spokes, their moist wood
more resilient. Instead of wielding an auger,
he burned every hole a size smaller than the bolts—
charred wood was less likely to rot, each joint
was more snug. Consider how, in the dry air,
wagons rumbled themselves apart—axles snapping,
wheels splitting, spokes dropping out like rotten teeth.
The better drivers tuned their ears to the music
of their wagon, to variations in the timbre
of each creak and groan. They soaked wheels to swell
wood; tightened loosening tires with wedges;
splinted wagons minus a wheel with a pole
that trailed eight feet behind, like a stick dragged
through dirt by a bored child.