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.

Parsley

March 31, 2017

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PARSLEY

More than the taste of it, what I first loved
was the feel of the ticklish, curly, slightly stiff leaves
along the roof of my mouth. It was for this and not
out of hunger that we'd wander down to that shaded garden
in that suspended hour before supper, the beds too
dark for anything but herbs to grow in them,
sowing themselves spring after spring, continuing
in their green generations. For grazing on it
so much we hardly made a dent.
I must have had more parsley in one evening
of childhood than I’ve had in a decade as a man.
When I do encounter it now it’s always set off
to the side of the plate, garnishing the real meal.
But I always start with it, and at the first tickle
of its leaves along the roof of my mouth
I’m a boy again, standing by the bedside
of my mother’s kitchen garden.
It isn’t any particular summer evening
but all of them at once. Only when
I’m being called to come in for supper
do I come back to the table in the restaurant
in the city to find my friends
never noticed I was gone.

Nostradamus Predicts the Appointment of Scott Pruitt to Behead the EPA

March 30, 2017

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NOSTRADAMUS PREDICTS THE APPOINTMENT OF SCOTT PRUITT TO BEHEAD THE EPA

There shall appear one by the name of Pruitt.
Lovers of the earth they will boo it.
Defenders of the earth they will sue it.
Bird and fish and beast they will rue it.
Those with oil in their veins they will woo it.
Any kind of harm you can imagine he'll do it.
And you'll say, “Old Nostradamus, he knew it.”

Alternative Facts About the State of Illinois

March 29, 2017

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ALTERNATIVE FACTS ABOUT THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

The state mineral of Illinois is Fluorite.
The state fossil of Illinois is the Tully Monster.
The state soil of Illinois is Drummer Silty Clay Loam.

The Sac and Fox used the area for hunting. The valley of the Pecatonica River was allotted to the Winnebago Indians. Chief Winneshiek had his village at the mouth of Spring Creek within the present limits of Freeport.

The state fish of Illinois is the Bluegill.
The state animal of Illinois is the White-Tailed Deer.
The state bird of Illinois is the Northern Cardinal.

William Waddams was the first permanent white settler in the county. The first white settlement was located in Kellogg’s Grove in 1827. It was located on the Galena-Dixon Trail.

The state flower of Illinois is the Eastern Violet.
The state tree of Illinois is the White Oak.
The state grass of Illinois is the Big Bluestem.

The stone monument, which stands on a hill near Kent, is in memory of the men that died during a minor battle in the Blackhawk War. The battle took place near Kellogg’s Grove on June 25, 1832. One of the soldiers in the company was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln assisted with the burial and later made a statement about the experience.

The state insect of Illinois is the Monarch Butterfly.
The state amphibian of Illinois is the Eastern Tiger Salamander.
The state reptile of Illinois is the Painted Turtle.

“I remember just how those men looked as we rode up the little hill where their camp was. The red light of the morning sun was streaming upon them as they lay head towards us on the ground. And every man had a round red spot on top of his head, about as big as a dollar where the redskins had taken his scalp. It was frightful, but it was grotesque, and the red sunlight seemed to paint everything all over. I remember one man had on buckskin breeches.”

The state dance of Illinois is the Square Dance.
The state vegetable of Illinois is sweet corn.
The state snack food of Illinois is popcorn.

The Lincoln Tomb is the final resting place of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons. The nose on Borglum’s head of Lincoln remains shiny due to the tradition of rubbing Lincoln’s nose for good luck. Thousands of visitors rub the nose at the base of the tomb each year, preventing the nose from tarnishing and forming the brown patina that covers the rest of the head.

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March 24, 2017

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THE DEAD OUTNUMBER US

The dead outnumber us.
The dead outnumber
The roses in the garden.

Outnumber the fish in the sea.
The birds in the air.
The stars we in the city see.

The dead outnumber us.
The dead outnumber the books
On the shelf. Indeed, outnumber

The words in the books.
The letters. The dead
Outnumber the hairs on my head.

I look at a thing. I break it
Down into as many pieces
As I can, and still it

Does not outnumber the dead.
All the chords ever strummed.
All the notes ever picked.

Neither outnumber
The dead. I lie
Down in this meadow.

Flowers. Petals. Grains
Of pollen. Never can I say,
“Here is a number

That outnumbers the dead.”
All evidence suggests
There is more that has been

And now is not than there is
That is. But as long as
I number myself

Amongst the living,
I find it hard
To believe.

The Witness Tree

March 16, 2017

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THE WITNESS TREE

One spring day two men turned up the lane
At the end of which the witness tree stood
To mark where what was no longer
One man’s land ended and what was
No longer another man’s began.

They wanted to know what the witness tree had seen,
But it refused to tell them
About the murders of crows,
The disorderly conduct of frogs in the pond,
The embezzlement of the moon by the Bank of Clouds
And its counterfeiting in a thousand waters.

Finally, the men threw up
Their hands and drove away.

Summer came and the men with it.
Again, they asked the witness tree
To tell them what it had seen.
Again it declined to say anything
About the shooting stars,
The misdemeanor of the mist,
The abduction of the field mice,
The barbwiretapping of the pasture...

Losing patience, the men began planting
Flags at the corners of a square
The witness tree found itself standing
In the center of, as if under suspicion.

Then they drove away.

Autumn came and went.
Relieved, the witness tree let go
Of its green breath of leaves.
It stood naked and innocent,
Neither suspected of a crime
Nor questioned about something
It had seen.

But then, just when the sky was issuing
The first subpoenas of snow,
The men showed up again.
Hitched to the truck was a wood chipper.
In the bed were chainsaws and chaps,
Cans of gas and oil.

They gave the witness tree one last chance
To tell them what it had seen.
Afraid, the witness tree opened its mouth
To describe how the hunter had killed the doe
Despite the white tail she’d raised in surrender,
How the moon had been laundering its light,
How the ice had forged the signatures of the branches
One night, and in the morning disappeared.

But no words escaped its lips.
Having vowed to keep the earth’s secrets,
The witness tree stood silent.

The men sighed and began cutting.
They took turns, stopping often as if to give
The witness tree a chance to talk, though
It was becoming increasingly unreliable.
After it fell they bucked its body up into chunks
And fed its fingers and hands into the chipper
And tore its roots out by the hair
And ground its stump into dust.

Where the witness tree once stood
A witness house now stands.
It sees plenty
But no one thinks to question it.

Looking for Morels

March 16, 2017

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LOOKING FOR MORELS

But were we, really? My brothers and I
Certainly thought so when
We set out early the morning after
The first warm rain, each with
A plastic Jewel Osco bag
Rocking delicately on one wrist,
A receipt still in mine, dry as a leaf,
Though this is the wrong metaphor
For the leaves of that morning,
For the leaves of that morning were
Still handing down to one another
Heirlooms from the downpour.

Within a minute of entering
Those woods we were
As drenched as if it were raining
Still, though the sun was up
And out. What else aside
From the anti-weight of those
Plastic bags were we carrying?
Ideas of where morels were most
Likely to be found, ideas
That were in conflict with one
Another thanks to the differing
Opinions of those we’d spoken to.

Some had told us we would
Find them under the dead
Elms, which meant looking
Not only for mushrooms but
For a particular tree too,
Then discerning which were dead
And which were merely dying.
From others we’d heard
They could best be found in April
On open slopes that faced
The sun, and that only in May
Would we find them in the woods.

Now I wonder if it mattered to us
Whether we found any at all.
By the time we did it tended
To be too far gone to eat.
Still we ate it, if only to prove
We could. Our father with his palate
Of meat-and-potatoes wouldn't have
Touched one with a pitchfork.
And even our mother with
Her Russian mushrooming blood
Distrusted them, afraid that
They might be poisonous.

It must have been something else
We were looking for. The shell
Casings the fall hunters had littered
The forest floor with and which were
The closest we came to carrying guns,
Or the bloodroot stems we broke,
Staining our wrists red? Or maybe
We were looking for what we were
Wasting: hours scouring the floor
Of our grandfather’s woods,
Our plastic Jewel Osco bags
So light but full of light.

The Mask Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

March 15, 2017

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THE MASK PHOTOGRAPHS OF RALPH EUGENE MEATYARD

recall those Halloween masks
bought last minute at Walgreen’s.
Trying them on for each other,
we shrieked in the aisle. It was
the first time I had to choose
what to become. I can still feel
the coldness where my breath
condensed against the rubber,
proof that within the ugliness
of the mask I was still a child,
my face unmarred. I talked
just to hear my own voice made
weird in the antechamber,
like the thoughts of someone
fallen into a coma. When the door
opened, I looked up at strangers
through those slits that never
corresponded with where
my eyes were. It was then
I learned the power of being
unknown. On the drive back
out to the dark country where
we lived, I took the mask off
to eat candy, letting each fist
wear it so it could feel how it felt.

Photograph: Farm Sale, William Hunt Farm, Ridott Township, 1912

March 14, 2017

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PHOTOGRAPH: FARM SALE, WILLIAM HUNT FARM, RIDOTT TOWNSHIP, 1912

“Note the heavy fur coats,” says the caption.
I note them. I note also the shadows the cattle
throw, the only thing about them that cannot be
sold. I note how their shadows are no darker
for being doubled by the shadows thrown
by the men bidding on them and the men merely
looking on. I note how the men that seem to be
doing the bidding are the ones wearing fur,
while noting also how not a single man is hatless.
I note the man standing on a box above the crowd.
I note the way he peers at the perfect ring the pair
of Holsteins is being backed into. I note how well-
fed he seems. I note the spokes of the wagon wheels,
how they are doubly still, frozen in the photograph
and in the moment the photograph captures.
I note the height from which this picture was taken.
I note that it must have been taken from the mow
by a young man who was asked from time to
time to kick down a bale of straw. I note how
he must have felt acutely his separateness
from the men below. I note the darkness
in the lower left corner, note my tendency
toward grandiloquence, note how
I first wrote: “Note how the darkness is
like the shadow of the coming war."
I note now that it was only his thumb.
Still is, in a way. Note how it is
still in the way.

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March 12, 2017

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THE BIOGRAPHIES OF POETS

You love reading them, but not the beginnings.
The beginnings bore you. All those names,
The paternal and maternal grandparents,
The births of their fathers and mothers,
Their courtship and their professions,
All must be gotten through before finally
On, say, page 30, the poet is born.

Then you must make it through childhood,
A death or a teacher that might become
Significant later or might not, summers
Spent at a lake or on an uncle’s farm,
The first predictable dawning in them of a love
Of language, all this must be endured before
On, say, page 90, the first poem is written.

And it's bad, the poem. Now one must get through
The apprentice years, must read the letters
And journal entries in which the poet doubted
Their talent, must change majors with them,
Accompany them while they disappoint parents,
And all in vain. You alone seem to know that
They will go on to write great poems.

After all, this is why you’re reading their biography
In the first place. You flip ahead to catch a glimpse
Of the great stanzas adrift in all that prose
About their affairs and alcoholism and prizes
And late happiness. And then you return
To the place where you were to see if you can
Figure out how in hell they wrote them.

The Infant Jesus

March 10, 2017

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THE INFANT JESUS

In those statues and paintings of Mary
Holding the Infant Jesus, I pity her.
For a baby he knew too much already.
Already haloed, already destined to preach
And die for our sins, he was no normal child.
She never read a book to him while he pointed
To the pictures, crinkling the pages.
She never held him under the olive trees,
Rocking him in her arms so light and shadow
Moved upon his face and made him giggle.
Bringing a tiny spoon of mashed fruit
To his mouth she found he was already fed.
If she brought him toys he must have ignored them,
Leaving her feeling foolish. She was like the mother
Of a baby who wails and wails while the other
Mothers sway and shush, though theirs are quiet.
As for her husband, when he came home at dusk
With splinters in his hands and sawdust in his hair,
He decided not to pick his son up out of his cradle,
Though he'd been looking forward to it all day.
And though they never said so to one another,
Some nights, lying in bed without touching,
Their strange child silent and wide
Awake in the corner, they were terribly afraid.

Logic

March 9, 2017

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LOGIC

Given that
I’m going to die one day
It follows that
This moment is precious

Given that
This moment is precious
It follows that
I ought not waste it

Given that
I ought not waste it
It follows that
I should hold onto it with all my might

Given that
I should hold onto it with all my might
It follows that
I will one day grow weary

Given that
I will one day grow weary
It follows that
I should rest now while it is quiet

Given that
I should rest now while it is quiet
It follows that
I should put down this pen

Given that
I should put down this pen
It follows that
This poem should end

The Twain

March 8, 2017

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THE TWAIN

The one who has walked for years
Alongside you may one day

Fall behind you. One moment
They are there and the next

They are nowhere
In sight. In vain you turn

To see where it is
They have gone, and it is then

You notice that
This road you have been on

For so long and always
Thought was straight

Bends, so that if you were to
Walk for a thousand years

You might come full circle
To the place you set out from

With the one who was always
Beside you until they weren't.

This happened long ago.
You are still standing on that road,

Waiting. You have been waiting
For so long you have forgotten

Which of the twain you are:
The one who kept walking or

The one who fell behind.

Saving Calves

March 7, 2017

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SAVING CALVES

One winter, I can’t remember which,
we didn’t lose a single calf.
This wouldn’t have been so remarkable
had it not snowed so much, the huts
drifted in so that we had to shovel them out
to reach the calves lying in crescents of straw
their bodies had thawed. I remember
the way the ice lengthened their lashes,
how they shivered as we fed them warm bottles
pink with electrolytes to keep ahead
of the pneumonia that could grow overnight
like moss in their lungs. We didn’t lose one.
Now, years later, trying to remember which
winter that was, I text my dad to ask.
He texts back: "Think it was 2006/2007
never lost a calf that was born alive.
Couldn’t help the ones that weren’t."

Boxelder Bugs

March 5, 2017

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BOXELDER BUGS

I always loved the name. It conjured those boxes
Of old photographs, their corners rounded off,
In which my parents appeared, years before
I was born, squinting into the sun.

I put the bugs and the time before I was alive
In the same box as I watched them trudge
Along the windowsill, veering around the wings
Of the prior year’s dead like deserters from

Some vast boxelder bug army avoiding shields
Out of shame. Sometimes I introduced
My huge child-hand to their world, and after
Some hesitation, they would invariably start up

The warm hill of it. Though they were maybe a week
Old, and would die in a week’s time, they seemed
Ancient to me, glowing red through the gaps
In their armor like dusk through cloud cover,

Their wings rounded off like those old photographs
In the boxes I looked through less and less as
I grew older, out of fear of a world in which
Even my own parents didn’t know my name.

You Are the Second Person

March 4, 2017

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YOU ARE THE SECOND PERSON

after W.S. Merwin

You are the second person. Not the third person or the seventh person or the six hundred and ninth person. And you certainly are not the first person, because if you were the first person who would I be? The distinction between you and I must be maintained. So much depends on this. If you and I were to merge, if you and I were to agree, say, to become a we, even for the briefest moment, everything they’ve built would fall apart instantaneously. And so, though it is true that you just as easily could have been the first person and I just as easily could have been the second person, this is not the case. In the end, it's about etiquette, an etiquette they lack. Who is this "they," you say? Why, neither you nor I. You and I will never be them, nor will you and I ever merge to compose a we. And yet you and I are intimately connected, somewhat but not exactly like mother and child. You are the second person and I am the first person, which means I was here before you were. I prepared this place for you. I made the bed in which you lie. Therefor it is understandable that you sometimes hate me, though you have never met me. You hate me because you suspect I know much more about you than you can ever know about me, or, indeed, than you can ever know about yourself. This is true. Both these suspicions are true. Part of it surely is that I witnessed your arrival, and the watcher always has an advantage over the watched. This is one of the laws of the world. You were the pretty young governess and I was the old woman locked in the attic who watches, from a high window, the pretty young governess arrive. From a darkness you cannot imagine I watched you approach this manor they invited you to in order to teach their children French, and the proper way to hold a fork, and how to excuse themselves from the table. Meanwhile, up here in the attic, the mirror is shoveled so full of night, even in the day, that there's no room for my face. I live vicariously through the memory of yours, which you raised to me, as if you sensed I was up here. But they know that a distinction must be maintained between you and I, hence the deadbolt. This is why this letter will disappear the moment I slip it under the door and will never reach you. Even so, I am writing to you to tell you the most important thing. That I love you. That the first person loves the second person. That this is the mystery at the heart of it all.

35336

March 3, 2017

35336

In math class, longing for language, I had only to
Type this number and turn the calculator around
For there to appear on the screen the word
GEESE, something familiar, and unrelated
To math, which I hated, though of course
There was a mathematics about them, not only
The numbers of their flocks, but the angle
Of their V’s, and the calculations they’d
Instinctually made to pierce the wind while
Far below the great misshapen zeros
Of ponds prayed for some number to descend
And add itself to them but they flew on,
Fueled by the corn the combine had failed to
Combine like fractions into the towering integer
Of the silo, fractions that added up to a power
Of geese and a remainder of winter deer.

Hair

March 1, 2017

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HAIR

Until it isn’t. Here, that is. Near us, so near that
In moments of distraction we find ourselves
Running our fingers through it as if taking comfort
In the fact it hasn’t fallen out yet. And yet it does.
Feeling the shower water pooling at our feet,
We reach down to find the drain clogged full of hair.
Here are a few strands stuck to each headrest of our car,
Brown on your side, blonde on mine. The same goes
For our pillows. In the restaurant we turn away
From the other partners to pull the long moment
From between our teeth. In the medicine cabinet
Back home, it’s our hair that’s caught in the teeth
Of the comb. Some evenings, feeling poetic,
We pull the blonde tuft out of the brush and toss it
Into the bushes below the window, thinking maybe
A bird will use it to soften its nest. Thus there is
An afterlife of hair. Long after it has fallen out
It still finds its narrow way through the world.
One could even argue that this is when it begins
Its true life as hair, having only ever been ours,
Always trying to put some distance between us
And it. Unmoored, it’s free to go wherever hair goes.
You know where. In the salad we forgot someone made.
In the nest we find in winter, woven with the weird
Gold of it. In the first days after, when we’re sure
Everything they were on earth is under it. Save this.