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Poem-a-Day

Tobacco Country

TOBACCO COUNTRY

Driving past I didn’t know what they were
at first, then I remembered where I was.
Kentucky. The patch was small, the rows
neatly hoed, as if some one man loved them.
But then there were more, and more, and
I knew some company owned them.
What I want to tell you is how innocent they looked,
unaware of what their leaves contained.
They were like every other growing thing
I had seen that day, the sycamores, the oaks.
Carefully cultivated, of course, part of a vast system
of economics and politics, responsibility and denial,
but there, in that patch, they were alive, and thus
somehow blameless. Like cattle being driven
towards slaughter, they seemed naïve as to where
they were headed: to the factory to be cut
and rolled and packed and shipped and stocked
and finally bought by a young woman
who steps out into the dusk and lights up,
breathing all these fields in, then exhales
and decides to finally leave him.
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Night Janitor

NIGHT JANITOR

In the dark the hastily-erased
chalk looks like snow
seen from the cabin
window of a plane
floating over Nova Scotia.
Were they words? Equations?
Were they names? I can turn
the lights on by merely walking in
and by them try to discern
what's written there, but I prefer
the pearly blur of the board, which draws me
into dreams of travel. So I leave it
for the morning janitor
to erase, and mop the floor.
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The Fallen

THE FALLEN

There were holes in the haymow floor
that would smile and swallow you whole.
Below, cows on the verge of labor
were chewing their cud like old women
I would see years later in New Delhi
chewing betel leaf. In one bay in particular
the floor was like pond ice thawing,
but we tried it anyway, shuffling
through the strewn straw, trusting
the cows' bellies would break our fall.
But what saved us were the pigeon eggs
that had fallen before we could.
Their weight in our hands was strange
as if they were three-fourths full of blue sand
and, distracted, we backed away, our carrying them
the closest they came to flying.
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In Plath's Cambridge

IN PLATH'S CAMBRIDGE

Before ARIEL you rode your bicycle
furiously over these cobblestones
that have not turned
over in their beds
since the long-dead
bricklayers laid them here

Now, long after you
set glasses of cold milk
and plates of buttered bread
by their beds
I walk in your Cambridge
and hear how they wobbled
beneath your tires
and your bell chiming
clear and silver
like that doorbell that
years later
you wouldn't rise to answer
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Meteor Shower

METEOR SHOWER

We stripped the beds of blankets and made up the bed of the truck,
Then drove up the field path, under the fixed but threatened stars.
Not understanding, I feared for them all, imagined them thumbtacks
Stuck in drywall that might stick to your skin and come backing out.
I didn’t know that what was falling had been falling for light years
Only not to reach us after having traveled so far, like a soldier who,
Wounded overseas, dies on the train home.
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Dream of Blaze

DREAM OF BLAZE

Dog I haven’t seen much
Less thought of in years
Was in my dream last night

Though I never paid him
Much attention in life
At his sudden appearance

I wept and cried out
Tried to explain to my girlfriend
Who was in the dream too

Holly this is Blaze
Who ran away years
Ago from that farm

That is gone now also
Come back covered
In ticks and burrs

Named Blaze though his fur
Is white and black and gray
And a better name

Might have been
Smoke or Soot
Indeed he smells

Faintly of fire
And as I pet him
Whispering Blaze

Blaze I notice there
Is something wrong
About his eyes
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Oklahoma Poem

OKLAHOMA POEM

Somewhere east of Texahoma I start falling
out of touch with the world. The radio scans
like an ax in the hand, making one full loop
before landing square on the Christian station,
oak that won't split. The red clay begins,
coming through the grass like a voice
through static. I see how the dust could’ve risen,
nothing to pin it down but the paperweights
of thunderheads. A boy, maybe twelve,
diminutive in the huge glassy cab, is opening
the earth again. It took his fathers a hundred times
as long as it will take him. I’m going eighty but
I think I see him wave. I wave, wish for him
he has a horse to brush back home.
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Tennessee, 103 Degrees

TENNESSEE, 103 DEGREES

Between showers and it’s so still
The leaves are like breaths
Soldiers hold

The rain has bequeathed
Its baubles to the woods
Old jewels the only granddaughter
Didn’t even want but so much
As touch one
And it disappears

The only moving thing
Amidst all these things
That move me
Are the butterflies

They’re the afterlives
Of spring flowers
Boys beheaded

If beauty is this fragile
Give me death
At least
I don’t have to worry about death
Dying

I think of the exiled novelist
Who lusted after them
Netting and gassing them
Pushing bright pins
Into their black bodies

Under glass now
They’re obsolete
Like those old maps that say
Beyond a cartoonish mountain range
“Here Be Dragons”
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