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Poem-a-Day

Nostradamus Predicts the Appointment of Scott Pruitt to Behead the EPA

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.”
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Alternative Facts About the State of Illinois

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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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.
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The Witness Tree

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.
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Looking for Morels

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.
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The Mask Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

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

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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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.
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The Infant Jesus

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.
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Logic

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
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The Twain

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.
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Saving Calves

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."
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Boxelder Bugs

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.
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You Are the Second Person

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.
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35336

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.
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Hair

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.
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The Barn Radio

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.
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American Glue Factory

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.
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Poets Die

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.
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Desecration

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
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Vacancy

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.
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The Light at the End

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
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Cellar Doors

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.
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The Philosopher and the Horse

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
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To My Students

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.
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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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