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First, comes the ’51 Studebaker,
the one pointed like a rocket,
then the two-toned Desoto Firelite
with its backwings curved
like a hawk catching an updraft.
Later, the ’50 Nash, so squat
that the top half of the white walls
are obscured. And the drivers:
all with short sleeves, sporting
ball caps with names of retired
battleships across the bills,
their gray-haired, tanned forearms
resting on the sill of the rolled-down
windows. Last, the ’42 Packard
driven by an old man wearing
a long-sleeved dress shirt,
tie, and fedora worn smooth
from everyday use, steering
with one hand and lightly tapping
the chrome side mirror like he is playing
some old Perry Como love song
only he can hear. He remembers
how he would lean hard out of the turns
or in toward the girl, now his wife,
sitting next to him, waving and tossing candy
to the crowd, and those days when
he would kiss her and kiss her
and she could think of nothing but him.
Bachelor Buttons, the old people
called them, found in spring
among rows of corn and winter wheat.
Worn by single men in their lapel,
left buttonhole, if they were available,
right, if they were spoken for.
Today a man plucks one
from the vase on the kitchen table,
picked from the furrows
of his fields He is going into town
to visit his wife of sixty years,
now mute in the nursing home.
He wishes she were here to help him,
his hands are not steady. But he finally
puts it in his button lapel, the right one.
There is that momentwhen starlight looks to the moonfor help, that heartbeatwhen the streaked, night horizonmust give up its life to the sun.
And he knows this too,for it is like water for teajust at that keen edgeof boiling or the short sweepof the second hand so quick
as it brushes pastinto the calligraphyof lost love. He graspshow his life is only as realas the tangent of morning,
here for a moment,ephemeral as autumn,trees heavy with red,with no recourse but to bend,arms full with the first, hard snow.
He stirs clouds intodreams, takes comfort in knowingthat at some oppositeside of the world, the first signof darkness is coming on.
You, the most regal of meats,
cured with the sweet essence
of trees: Hickory, Sugar Maple,
Applewood, all with enough salt
to preserve a mariner’s food supply
on a voyage to the New World.
Made with love by pigs
in a blanket of grease,
best wrapped and deep-fried
with Twinkies and corn dogs
at county fairs. The only thing
that makes lettuce and tomato
edible if I must consume
my vegetables. I, who choose
you four times in the Pick-Five
breakfast at my local diner,
who put you in a blender
for my health shake, who order
you ala mode with apple pie.
The only true impediment I see
to a conversion to Judaism.
No, never, I say to the report
that people who abstain live two years
longer than those who eat you.
No, never to
Each county road
a valley of corn
as farmers at truck stands
hurry to make
their last sale of the day.
The fields glow
orange in sunset.
Soybeans are not interested
in a quizzical moon
but will listen
lovingly to the sweet
evensong of birds.
Sitting under her spotlight beam,
the old lady brings out her cellophane bag
for the fifth time this trip.
She lowers her seat tray taking me
hostage and pulls out her stash.
One by one, she turns snapshots
face up like a casino dealer:
a child riding a tricycle, another
blowing out two candles on a cake,
the third wearing a mask
of spaghetti. She traces
her finger over each like Braille,
then studies a ragged piece of paper,
writing printed in a palsied hand.
They will come, she knows, her daughter
and cold-fish son-in-law to meet her
at the gate with their uncertain
smiles and children. But it never hurts
to have the address, a phone number,
some change handy. After all,
you never know. Far below
the plastic window fogged,
from my cheek, each single farm house
cold and alone as a star struggles
to pull town-light into its orbit.
Coffee, black and oily enough
to lube a tractor sits on a stove,
while porch lights remain on long after
everyone is in for the night for anyone
who might drive down the road
for a visit. After all, you never know.
A number that cannot be expressed as a simple fraction. If it were a decimal, it would go on forever.
I wouldn’t much trust any
of them with something
important like buying
a car or choosing the best
college. Hell, they
don’t even know
enough to end in a neat
point or round themselves
off against the hard edges
of their everyday lives.
No, maybe not. But still
they manage to carry
on, survive, keep
(or is it back) forever,
year after year,
an endless line,
with no regrets.
Like us that day
we became one,
put down roots,
solid and square,
seeking the common
denominator to lives
we thought would
be as easy as pi.
Having your book of poems appear
at the local library branch
is much like being named
Pork Queen in the festival parade.
Like in football when you forward pass
and two of the three possibilities
are bad, the reasons why
your book shows up on the shelf
might be considered suspect.
“He’s not selling well
and the least we can do
is help out”. Or
“He’s not that great,
but still and all, he’s ours.
Besides, he might draw
a little more traffic
to the 800’s stack.
That can’t be all bad.”
Anyway, it’s patron’s comments
that count the most, the consistent
clucking of tongues collected
by the librarian like overdue fines—
Go figure. And all this time
I thought he was a regular guy.