My Clay: 7 Poems of Indiana and Kansas

These revised poems Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer
Ghost Man of the Road
At dusk, the old man walks by these country houses.
Sometimes, as children lie in bed, they hear
the distant crunch of his feet in gravel.  Over
and over, but muffled, of course, out on the road.
Impossible to hear except on a warm spring night
when the house is quiet and the windows open
and the summer insects are yet to sing.
Then sometimes again in Indian summer.
I used to hear his steps on our road.
Ghost man of evening.  Old man of ragged clothing.
I visioned him walking into the dark, never stopping,
but glancing sometimes at my window, wondering
what small child lived there.
(first published in Kansas Quarterly)
End of Winter
Sloshing through marsh at the end
        of winter
in hip boots
with snow still stuck to the willows.
Sky above is featureless gray
and oak-covered hills are
        black-gray lines
with brown tatters.
To the south an angry farmer calls
        his son.
To the north water trickles through
dead grass.
Legs and face are numb and still.
Only the heart is whispering
(first published in Cottonwood Review)
The Old Farmer
He was lying like a twig in the hay,
the old farmer.
Dad and I raised him, each on a side,
and carried him to his kitchen door.
There, at the top of the steps, we danced
trying to enter the narrow passage.
His legs going separate ways
waved apart before us.
The speechless anger in his eyes
was all that age had left
of the dignity of living on his land.
(first published in Cottonwood)
When I arrive is always years from now,
at the edge of my father’s marsh,
and the hole is half filled with water
and choked with grass
where at five
I watched him dig lilies for our yard.
I step barefoot into fetid water,
worm the ooze around my feet,
scoop black decay with my toes,
working through sediment
to yellow clay.
Returning night and night,
kneading my feet in that clay.
(first published in Tellus)
The Milk House
The stones are crawling from their mortar
to settle like old farmers in the clay.
Their fields have sprouted puffball houses;
red flags ripen in the orchard.
(first published in Tellus)
Prairie Summer
Always, under the heavy sun, there is time.
You look around, and nothing has changed;
the hills are more steady than the heart.
Clouds move for days across the sky,
like strangers down the highway
looking for some other place.
(first published in Little Balkans Review)
That’s All There Is
A row of fence posts
down the road.
You don’t see the man
who dug the holes
and planted the posts
and stretched the wire.
You don’t see him.
You just see posts going by
and the wire
and off in the distance
the sky.
(first published in West Branch)

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