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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.

Cat Moving Kittens

CAT MOVING KITTENS

We must have known,
Even as we reached
Down to touch them
Where we'd found them
Shut-eyed and trembling
Under a straw bale
In the haymow, that
She would move them
By cover of darkness,
One by one, by the skin
Of their necks, that
By finding them
We were making certain
We wouldn't see them again
Until the day
We reached for them
Where they sat like
Sullen teens on the tires
Of the pickup, springing
Effortlessly away to glare
Back at us, having gone
As wild by then
As they'd gone
Still in her mouth
That night, that night
She made a decision
Any human mother
Might make upon guessing
The intentions of the state,
The decision to go and to
Go now, taking everything
You love between your teeth.
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The Man Without Oxen Trembles

THE MAN WITHOUT OXEN TREMBLES

"Take good note when you first hear the cranes flying over, coming each year without fail and crying high in the heavens. They will give you the sign for ploughing and tell when the winter's rains are at hand: at their call the man without oxen trembles. Then give your oxen plenty of fodder - if you have oxen. It is easy to say: 'Please lend me your oxen and wagon,' easy also to answer, 'I'm sorry, I've work for my own oxen.'"

- Hesiod, from WORKS AND DAYS

Last fall it was your neighbor who stood trembling,
Oxenless. You could have lent him one, having two,
But it was the year 642 BC, centuries before Christ
Would utter that pretty piece of wisdom about the coats.
He stood at the stonewall you built together to clarify
Where his land ends and yours begins, coveting
The furrows your stumbling team made like the wake
Of Odysseus's ship on the Mediterranean. Not wanting
To finish fieldwork early and feel an obligation to
Let him borrow them, you opened more ground than
You intended to sow, driving them to exhaustion.
Now you're the man without oxen, looking up
At the first cranes flying over, crying out it's time
To plough. The harness you might have taken hold of
Last fall to still this trembling in your hands
Hangs in the barn, smelling faintly of lather.
And being a farmer, you know you didn't sow them
Deep enough, and that it won't be long now until
Winter rains bring their bones out of the hill.
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The Bow

THE BOW

At the beginning of every summer
We boys were given a common gift
To share, to live the long summer
Through with because we lived
Far from everywhere and thus
Had learned how even a small thing
Could shovel a hundred empty hours
Full of fun. One summer the gift
Was a bow and its flock of lithe arrows.
Even before we held it we knew
What it looked like when drawn
From the paintings of Frederic
Remington. And because he was
Our father it fell to him to demon-
Strate how to shoot an arrow straight,
Though I doubt now he had ever
Drawn a bow before. The problem
Was he was stronger than the boy
Whoever designed the bow had
Imagined nocking the arrows.
We winced as the ends neared one
Another as if the point was to restore
The bow to the full circle it had been
Before. It broke, sending slivers
Of fiberglass delving into his skin.
I'll never be able to unremember how
They rayed through his poor palm,
Resembling the quills of the feathers
The pheasants left us like calling
Cards when we startled them up
From the pasture. Had he tried to
Close his hand into a fist in anger
At the pain, he couldn't have. It was
As if it had instantly ossified. Our only
Consolation was knowing his strength
Had shattered it, not any weakness
In the bow. When he ran in to run
Hot water over his hand to begin
Easing the slivers out, I plucked
The arrow from where it had sprung
Sapling-like out of the grass
Not five feet from where he'd stood,
Having hoped he would sink it
For our sake into heartwood.
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Two Stations

TWO STATIONS

The trains themselves have changed
But the reason their bells toll so mournfully
When they roll into the station is the same:
Their purpose is forever to be bearing strangers
From one place to another, down twinned rails
Laid down like laws everyone has forgotten
The reason for, running behind the same houses
That have always, as if in modesty, turned away
From the tracks, blowing a whistle that,
In every season, and in every kind of weather,
Has cried out Oh! Oh! like an old woman
Surprised by pain felt in the midst of a procedure
She was told would be painless. One could spend
One's life being borne back and forth between
Two stations, and on one's deathbed not remember
A beloved face, but that blur the world assumes
When we pass through it too fast, the only stillness
The blacked-out mountains, forever at their most
Beautiful after the sun has slipped behind them.
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Ducks' Misery

DUCKS' MISERY

When I was younger I wasted so much time
Poised over a notebook of childhood poetry
Wondering where to place the apostrophe
In this name long-dead hunters had bequeathed
To the bottomlands of the Pecatonica River.

Was it the misery of one duck, or of many?
And if it was the misery of many, how many?
And a larger question: since the apostrophe
Is possessive, are we meant to believe that
They possessed their misery? And if so, can we

Assume they carried this misery into death,
The way the black labs the hunters loved
More than they loved their guns carried
The bleeding ducks in their mouths so gently
So as not to crush them? Then there was

Another possibility to consider. Perhaps
There was no apostrophe at all. Perhaps
Ducks and misery were parallel phenomena,
Related to one another the way the birds
In air and their reflections in water were.

It's little wonder that I usually chose to go
With the singular possessive, letting one duck
Become a martyr and carry the flock's misery
All by itself, until it grew so weary with the
Carrying it it dropped out of the sky. Now that

I'm older, I would rather dole the misery out,
Let the flock as a whole bear it, to each duck
An equal measure. And finding the plural possessive
On an old plat map, I know now it's likely that
This is what those dead hunters intended.
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Into the Corn

INTO THE CORN

In summer we were warned not to enter it
If the tassels were head-high or higher
Lest we get lost like the boy who went in
After a ball called foul and never came out
Whose parents must have been decades dead
But who himself had not aged a day
Who runs bases wherever farm boys say
Ghost man oh ghost man we need you!
Out of longing to enter it we reached in
The leaves slicing our arms like the knife
My mother used to slash the risen dough
Wrenching the ears off the stalks
Like twisting doorknobs in the dark
We held them to our own ears grinning
Before turning serious and regretful
For through them we had heard the boy laughing
And as we brusquely shucked the husks
Like village grandmothers sitting in doorways
Down to the slick light green inner leaves
We longed for the moist dark that seemed to be
One of the privileges of being born as corn
But not knowing this longing was common
We held the silk under our bare armpits instead
And laughed at the long joke of adolescence
We were soon to be the punch lines of
While really recalling the pubic hair
Of women we’d seen in porn magazines
We found in the trash in the roadside ditch
When the kernels hybridized for cattle
Were exposed in their wavy pews
We gnawed them like they were sweet
Corn picked up at the roadside stand for supper
Boiled in sugar-water buttered and salted
To be spun on the lathes of our hands
And when we’d bitten off more than we could chew
We snapped the cobs clean in half
So as to see the marrow and believe
We had gone at least as deep into the corn
As that boy who’d disappeared had
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Father and Son: Barcelona

FATHER AND SON: BARCELONA

To be carried by your father through the city streets
To be carried by your father
To be carried
To have been born
Only to be borne...

One day years from now
After your father has failed
To remember your name
You will only faintly remember
This night he carried you home
Through the streets of the Gothic Quarter
Your ash-colored lashes closing
And fluttering open
Closing and fluttering open
And the faint scent of lather on his neck

Unfair that I a stranger
Will remember him carrying you
That he will die and not remember
That you will live and only faintly remember
But the fact is to be alive is to be carried
By your father through your city
And laid in your bed without waking
Then opening your eyes in the morning
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Grief and History Console One Another















GRIEF AND HISTORY CONSOLE ONE ANOTHER

Usually it's Grief, the one covering her face
With her hand and weeping, who needs
To be consoled by History, who holds
A stylus and a tablet, having perpetually
Just written the words: "They died that
Their country might live." But today
History too is inconsolable, which is why
Grief has, with difficulty, raised her marble
Arm to comfort her, so that they look like
Two women pepper sprayed for protesting
Peacefully, and who, though they've never met
Before, will have to walk home together.
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Eve of the Inauguration

EVE OF THE INAUGURATION

Eve herself, the First Woman of Old
Testament fame, not the First Lady,
Will pace the marble balustrade, invisible
To the billionaires and pop stars
And Victoria Secret models and Secret
Service agents. The news cameras
Will fail to capture her. Only women
Chanting outside the barricades will
Feel her flicker through them.
She split from Adam. He'll be sitting
In some bar downtown, clutching
At a pain in his side, still believing
The old lie that she sprang from him.
His strength is waning. The bartenders
Will whisper, pitying him. Hours later,
They'll have to cut him off and he'll stumble
Drunk into day. Back at the inauguration,
Men will begin to feel her power, shivering
In their thin black tuxes as she passes
In a summer dress, her skin smooth.
And even the man being sworn in,
His small hand on that book that got
Her story all wrong, will feel her eyes
On him and fear Eve so much even
The fibers in his toupee will stand on end.
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Classroom Nosebleed

CLASSROOM NOSEBLEED

It begins with a flagrant red arc
The approximate size and shape
Of your eyebrow appearing
On the back of your hand
Which you drew carelessly
Under your nose

The teacher is still waiting
For someone to raise their hand
And define the word he has written
In large capital letters on the board
Everyone calls "the blackboard"
But which is actually dark green

"PYRRHIC VICTORY"

You're leaning back in your chair now
Your head tilted as if you're falling
Asleep and you can feel the tickle
Of it dribbling down your throat
Now it's in your mouth
The penny taste of it

Because of something happening
At home the teacher is in the mood
To make you sit there all day
Clear through the ringing of bells
You know the answer
But you can't risk him drawing

The class's attention to you
When Nick Garrity the smart aleck
Who sits in the back row
Raises his hand and calls out
"The battle General Pyrrhic won?"
You sneeze blood all over

Two textbook pages that cover
A few hundred years of Greek history
And the teacher who may
Have lost custody but still possesses
A sense of humor looks at you
And says "Good answer"
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