Monday, May 14, 2012

Farming Poems

Big John*

Big John always wanted to piss
in the catfish vat. “How would you like it,”
I said, “if you had to eat piss?” He was six
or seven years my junior and listened to me
ever since his father’s heart gave out on him
and left the boy in a trailer full of hens.
He decided to climb inside the drainage pipe
waiting to be put in the ground under the road
above his house and have me push him
all the way down the steep pasture hill.
He wouldn’t come out afterwards
because he’d covered himself with vomit
and couldn’t stop crying while I laughed
and asked, “Why did you do that?”
We’d take turns running over fresh cow piles
with his Dad’s lawnmower, splattering
offal in perfect rays across the grass
trying to hit each other’s legs. This was before
he started stealing, married his half
sister, abandoned his child, and started cooking
meth: back when he was just slow and petulant
cousin John, who Dad had to keep chasing off
from the farm. I caught him once, over the summer,
emptying himself into a dry vat. Dad and them
would scrub it good in the fall when fish season
started up, so there wasn’t much harm,
and by the time I came around the corner,
the stream was already flowing. I watched him
lift the stream up to his mouth, pause then again.
He saw the look on my face, shrugged,
and said, “It ain’t the worst thing.”

*originally appeared in Naugatuck River Review

Blackberry Bushes at the Silo

Harvest time reminded our boy minds
that there was death
or at least dismemberment at the silos.

Trucks burped thunder as they sat impatiently
while their loads of rice
were augured out
into the steep concrete-lined pit
in front of the silos.
A screw in the bottom churned the grain,
sucked it into the silos with a shuffling sound
like sand trying to whistle.
We breathed in chaff and dust,
waiting for our fathers to go for another load.

Then, quick as thieves, we laid
a rain-warped and splintered board
across the pit.
Some kid had fallen in years ago,
and the screw
wrenched his arm right off,
crushed his legs,
squashed him almost to death
because he didn't listen:
they told us this story
with the same lips
they used to kiss us goodnight..
We might never have set up that balance beam,
if they hadn't added history to the mix.

The object was to stand in the middle of the board
while the older boys kicked the ends,
sending waves across the plank.
We had to ride it like a log roll.
It would be hours before they came back
to empty their trucks.
Time enough to dig the bodies out.

This day, Justin, runt son of an old drunk
who hung around the farm and got in the way
of work watched me cross halfway,
watched the boys thump the plank, sending me surfing,
saw me fall to my knees and crawl back to safety,
while the older ones laughed.

They turned to Justin, all teeth and tansgums,
and he cut and ran between two silos.
We chased him, threateninging
to lock him in with the rats,
to be chewed to death so while he suffocated
as the silo filled with grain.

We caught him tripped- up in the corpse of an old fence,
struggling to untangle his clothes and skin
from the rusted, barbed wire.
He grinned at us, reached up slowly,
offered us a black-fisted handful of blackberries
from the bush doing it's damnedest to strangle
the old fenceg rowing beside his head.

Grinning like skulls,
the smaller boys snatched the berries up,
and smacked loud in time to the thud of fists
teaching poor Justin's bones.

*originally appeared in Clackamas Literary Review

Dear Cow,*

I'm sorry I shot you with my second-hand
rifle when I was twelve. I hated you
because you were my father's, and he'd cussed me
the night before. The rifle, I hated the same.
He only gave it to me because he thought
I was a nancy-boy and didn't know how to kill. I thought
he was right. My father said cows
have thick hides and you were so far away.
I heard you moaning before they found you, bleeding out.
It hurt me. Not as much as I hurt you, I know.

*originally appeared in Tipton Poetry Journal

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