(By which I mean old poems that I'm polishing up)
Doc Poling, John Harpster and F.O. Keene
Went to Pearl City this morning
After prairie chickens.
A dray followed them
To the field of slaughter
To bring back the game.
Sometimes a man gets to picking
Some guitar in the evening
And before he knows it
His fingers have become weary
Sharecroppers picking peas.
His index finger is the father,
His back bent by the work
Like a divining rod by water.
His middle finger is the son,
Full of fire, desirous of horizons.
His ring finger is the daughter-in-law.
She doesn’t often help in the fields
But, sensing trouble, has come out today.
The pinky finger is her son.
He eats every third pea he picks.
And the thumb, big and slow,
Is the man whose peas these are.
Seeing him coming towards them,
The fingers get to picking faster.
To tend to.
A horse, say, or a garden.
They tend to
TO AN ABANDONED COAL FACTORY IN ASHLEY, PENNSYLVANIA
Your walls are scrawled all over
With cocks and numbers
To call for a good time.
The cocks are rocketlike,
Their balls shaped like plumes
The numbers are obsolete.
The gum-smacking girls
Who might have answered once
Are exhausted mothers by now.
The men who filed in and out
Of your doors for the better
Part of a century
Have come back as their grandsons
To deface you with desire.
Be glad of it.
You’ve been tagged
Like the boy crippled
By polio, surrounded
In his wicker wheelchair
By a half dozen
Who laughs to be touched
By so many hands.
Dinner done (the dead man was not invited),
They sit silently as the maid takes away
The picked carcasses of Cornish hens.
When the table is cleared she returns
With a book of matches. It takes four
To light the two tall tallow candles.
Reluctantly, wishing she could stay,
For she loved him, too, the maid leaves
The women alone with this man
They’ve hired to bring him back
From sea. They hold hands: the man’s
Are cool and dry, while theirs are warm
And damp. One of her daughters believes
It will work. The other does not. She does
Not know what she thinks. Part of her
Wants him to walk in and sit down
At the head of the table, while another
Part of her, perhaps the greater part,
Wants to have to wait to see him
In the afterlife, as has been promised.
The medium whispers and from somewhere
Deep in the house comes a loud bang. The flames
Genuflect on their wicks as if out of respect.
But it was only the maid. Carelessly,
She kicked the pantry door closed, distracted
By the memory of her master.
In that hard quiet between paintings,
Walk into the orchard in need
Of pruning. Smoke under the apple trees
And take comfort in the fact that
They seem to understand you,
What with their windfall art,
Keening over their canvases
Of grass, having given all they have
To give. And please, take some time,
Before you come in, to consider
The bees, how they thrum
Over the cidery mash
Like those art critics at The Times.
Pray pretend you don’t hear me
Lingering in the dark hall
To hear you play
One of your haunting melodies.
Weird sister (if I may -
after all, your brother’s name
was Austin), I promise not to
Watch you, only listen.
EKPHRASTIC POEM ON A PAINTING THAT DOESN'T YET EXIST
In the painting three brothers are walking
On water. It’s no miracle, it’s just very cold.
A minute ago they spooked a pheasant who’s flown
Just outside the frame and their hearts are still
Pounding. They’ve balled their fists up
In their gloves. Under the ice the stream purls,
White in places where air is trapped. Deeper,
In mud the consistency of freezer-burned ice cream,
Toads hibernate, their hearts beating once a day.
The boys know they won’t drown if they fall through.
There will be shock, a cold so cold it burns,
The mysterious shame of transgression.
In solidarity, the others will break through, too,
Knowing that at home they’ll find fire, lamplight,
Clothes staticky and warm from the drier.
But for the time being they’re being as careful
As if they were walking on the weak roof of hell.
At the end of the auction all that was left
Was the anvil, a paperweight keeping
The last page from turning, the story of the place
From ending. None of the neighbors
Eating pie to keep the man company
Through what had always been the milking hour
Had the heart to lift it. Only later, after
The cherry-stained paper plates had been discarded
And the dust in the lane had settled
Did the farmer’s son come walking out
Of the machine shed carrying the anvil
In his arms like an iron lamb, a lamb
That hasn’t strayed from the flock
But that the flock has strayed from.
WORD OF ADVICE
Friends, we have survived
Another summer, but we are
In even graver danger now.
Lovers, lock the doors
Of your homes if both
Of you are already inside.
As for you lovers who find
Yourselves in different states,
Breathing shallowly, what
With the long sword of the road
Balanced between your throats,
Trust that the blade will rust one day,
But know that not before
Leaves and snows fall
Will you hold one another again.