glean: 1. to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit. 2. to gather (grain or the like) after the reapers or regular gatherers. 3. to learn, discover, or find out, usually little by little or slowly. 4. to gather what is left by reapers.

The Barn Radio

February 28, 2017

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THE BARN RADIO

Over the years there were several but in a way
There was only one, the same radio shape-
Shifting, its antenna growing longer like a horn,
Its face at once sleeker and less beautiful,
Its voices more numerous and distinct. In 1941
It balanced on a beam over my grandfather’s head
Where he sat on a stool milking sixteen cows
In stanchions (each had a name) when he heard
What the Japanese had done and knew the world
Had changed. One evening in late November
Twenty-two years later, same barn, different radio,
He heard the news out of Dallas and remembered
That day in December, recalling the markings
(an archipelago of white water and black islands)
Of the cow he’d been milking when he heard.
And so on that November day he lived through
That December day too. Seventy years later,
In another month with an ember smoldering
In its name, my father heard the second plane
Crash into the tower. By then the cows were being
Milked by machines in the parlor, and were numbered
Instead of named. The radio sat on a shelf on the wall.
That morning my father thought of his father,
Hearing that the President had been shot in Dallas
And that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor,
So that on that September day he lived through
That day in November and that day in December too.
And they heard it all through the same barn radio,
Its antenna trained violently towards town.

American Glue Factory

February 27, 2017

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AMERICAN GLUE FACTORY

for Rachel Carson

Your whole childhood you watched old horses
File up a cleated wooden ramp into the factory
Down the road and file out as smoke.
This was in Springdale, Pennsylvania,
Up the Alleghany from Pittsburgh,
At the beginning of the twentieth century.
What a pleasant name, Springdale. Summer nights
The stench of burning horses drove you inside
From the porch where you’d sat reading.
It was then you learned that something
In the air can close a story. You knew
From the sign along the road, AMERICAN GLUE
FACTORY, what the horses were being turned into.
On your desk was a bottle you used to join this
And that to this and that. Horses were what held
The gold and silver stars in the firmament
Of your notebook, and what made the hearts
Stick to the Valentine you never gave that girl.
Sitting on your bed, watching the horse-smoke
Obscure the stars, you thought of how much
The air can bear in its arms, and how a ramp
Is the simplest and cruelest invention.
But most of all you thought about how
There must have been a time when
There was no such thing as glue
Because, the world being whole,
There was nothing broken to mend.

Poets Die

February 25, 2017

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POETS DIE

Poets die. They die
In parks, in hospitals, in cabs,
In Italy, in Alaska, in debt,
In nooses, in anonymity, in rags,
In slums, in mansions

Poets die. They die
At midnight, at noon, at dawn,
At Breadloaf, at Sewanee, at AWP,
At the hands of the state,
At their desks, at last

Poets die. They die
In summer, in winter, in fall,
In disgrace, in drink, in protest,
In a pool facedown at a party,
In exile, in drone strikes

Poets die. They're dying
Left and right. And the ones
Who aren't dead yet
Are busy writing elegies
For that poet who just died.

Desecration

February 22, 2017

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DESECRATION

You can knock the teeth of our graves out
But you only do so because you cannot reach
Can never reach
Our mouths in which we carried two languages
The old and the new
Like a pail of grain and a pail of water

You can knock our loaf-like headstones down
But you only do so because you cannot reach
Can never reach
The challah we braided and brushed with butter
And that rose in the oven like a breath
Taken in and held forever

You can knock the tomes of our tombs down
But you only do so because you cannot reach
Can never reach
The book of poems we opened one afternoon
To a page marked by a pressed flower
Still holding its shape and color
Whereupon we remembered
The meadow and the hour

Vacancy

February 21, 2017

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VACANCY

I knew from setting up the nativity
Each Christmas Eve that
Joseph and Mary were refugees.
Despite the state she was in
There was no room in the inn
But they were welcome
To sleep in the stable.
The animals were always good
About making room.
It took just a little shooing
To get them away from the manger
The stableboy had just filled.
I was patient with the cow nursing
The wounded leg we’d had to glue
And with the sheep who,
Up to their painted eyes
In real straw, couldn't really move.
But I was wary of the donkey
Who kicked, and the three wise men
With their gifts, I set them
In the shadows. I recall also
A shepherd who, afraid
To sleep too far from his flock
With strangers about, looked
Bashfully down and away,
Having witnessed her labor,
Holding his wire hook
In his papier-mâché hands.
They were all made of papier-mâché,
Except the Holy Family,
Who were made of clay,
And the ceramic angel who hung
On a nail from a hook drilled
Between her wings, perpetually
Unfurling a banner that said
Something significant in Latin.
Probably VACANCY. The inn
Was full but as far as I could tell
There was no inn, or Trump Hotel,
Just that stable in which
A young couple knelt
In a ring of merciful animals
And in the light of a bulb
That blew out every few years
But that was always the same light.

The Light at the End

February 3, 2017

THE LIGHT AT THE END

The light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
Fashioned from late sun passing through green leaves
And the glow of fresh gravel not three days from the quarry
Down this lane let's set you walking
Towards the light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
And let's run a creek through a corrugated pipe
Sunk in the gravel so you have something to cross over
To mark how far you are yet
From the light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
And alongside you let's walk an old dog
With burrs and ticks in his fur
Not to protect you from anything
For if you're walking this lane you're beyond harm
But for companionship as you make your way
Towards the light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
Several birds have volunteered to stay on longer
To sing for you as you walk
Towards the light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
I hear you like beer so I hereby slip a bottle
Of something good and cold in your hand
To keep you refreshed as you approach
The light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
And to put things in perspective so that you may
Know you are still on earth as you walk
Towards the light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
I'll hang a crescent moon on the eastern sky
Something to know where you are by
I suppose it's just dark enough now
To set flickering fireflies in the fields
That stretch away on either side
But remember the light in their abdomens
Is different from the light at the end of the lane
The light at the end
I don't know what else I can offer you as you walk
What else you could ask for
Save maybe that the lane grow longer
And the light linger
The light dwindling at the end of the lane
The light fading at the end

Cellar Doors

February 3, 2017

CELLAR DOORS

In winter they were a ramp of snow
That heightened the hill and made
Our sledding more thrilling. In spring
The green rain ran down the grooves
In the wood, pooled and fueled tulips.
In autumn the doors burned with leaves.
Only in summer did we fling them open
To descend into the cellar, seeking shelter
From storms that always missed us. It was then
The unfortunate fact dawned on me that
If the nuclear power plant down in Byron
Ever blew, they'd fail to keep the secret
Of our deaths from us. Still, I took comfort
In the way they lay one upon the other
Like the hands of a girl in church, or like
The only two books the poet wrote, on display
At his funeral, arranged in such a way that
The one on top doesn't obscure the title
Of the collection he started writing
After he learned he was dying.

The Philosopher and the Horse

February 1, 2017

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THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE HORSE

In January of the year 1889
While walking through an open-air market in Turin
The philosopher Nietzsche saw a man
Flogging a horse in one of the plazas of Turin
The horse was refusing to pull a carriage in which
Sat a couple late for the theater in Turin
The horse had just come from the country
And was spooked by the commotion of Turin
Because it wore blinders and could not see
All the horse knew of Turin
Was the cries of vendors and the whistles of police
And the cobblestone streets of Turin
That blurred between its hooves as its master urged
It to trot faster through the streets of Turin
The philosopher Nietzsche saw this horse being flogged
By a productive citizen of Turin
The reins having become whips in the hands of this man
Who made his living in the streets of Turin
But no one else so much as stopped or stared
As they shopped in the markets of Turin
For the food they would prepare for supper that evening
When the shadows lengthened over Turin
And the lamps were lit in the quiet kitchens
Of the homes of the good people of Turin
So the man who’d said God was dead
Pushed his way through the crowds of Turin
Throwing his body between the man and the horse
Being whipped in the streets of Turin
Throwing his arms around the horse’s strong neck
As if to save all of Turin
From this man who kept whipping both the horse
And one of the many maniacs of Turin
So that the lashes licked his hands like flames
And the philosopher fell sobbing to the streets of Turin
Crying out for the poor horse to be spared
From being whipped by this man in Turin
Two policemen ran up blowing whistles in order
To see what was disturbing the peace of Turin
And as the driver apologized to the couple
Waiting patiently to be driven to the theater in Turin
The policemen carried the weeping philosopher away
And put him in a hospital in Turin
Where he wrote long and strange letters
To those who lived far from Turin
One ordering the German emperor to go to Rome to be shot
All from the quiet of his room in Turin
While through the open window came the clop-clop-clop
Of the hooves of the horses of Turin
Including the horse he’d tried to save
Accustomed now to the commotion of Turin
As for the philosopher they put him in a mental institution
And he died a decade later in a villa in Weimer

To My Students

February 1, 2017

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TO MY STUDENTS

While you write the same scene filtered through
The points of view of two different characters,
I do the math. If you’re something like twenty
Now that means I was something like fourteen
When you were born. When you were babies
I was a boy on a farm in Illinois. At this hour,
At this time of year, I must be kneeling to make
A fire, crumpling up two-day old newspaper full
Of sports victories and losses long forgotten,
The bad news of 1996, the obituaries of farmers
Who were to me then as I am to you now: inscrutable
Shapes silhouetted on a rise in the road ahead. Now
I am laying the dry kindling I carried in while
Several of you have stopped writing. On your faces,
That vacant look of students who are thinking
Of how much work they have to do before they can sleep.
And yet I can’t help but feel that that fire I lit
That winter night when I was fourteen and
You were asleep in your crib is burning still
In the way one of you takes your pen in hand again,
Having thought of something for your character to say.