THREE POEMS, THREE POETS
JESSE LEE KERCHEVAL
No one in the county saw the wind, though
someone must have, maybe everybody did,
but it seems it was transparent, invisible,
no one can tell you the exact angle of the red pine
before it was broken, only after,
or can imitate the noise, the shaking loose
all those shingles made,
or can say for sure what that first moment
sounded like after the wind stopped
whether something or nothing or a soft note
The world whirs: vetiver and violins,
lilac and lion’s roar, lilies, dogwood and daisies
rip off their green shawls to show you
their white fringe of hair, asters
upholster the pathways purple, the fish kisses
the side of her bowl and even ice
cubes clink thanks for their glass. Love
new, and you knew the world new
defined, all a dictionary of him—stem
to be plucked by his fingers, lamp
that which lit his bristl’d chin—the whole
world, the whole world
of him, the whole world a hymn.
My grandmother crowns the hill,
her headlights lathing the dark,
a farm route
through rye then cotton
then the red and gold of wheat,
the scrub oak crowding
a little nameless river
where fog holds to low places.
Who would have seen the tractor
aimed down the highway by a boy,
his first summer behind the wheel,
with no lights but the holy
somnolence of a cowboy radio?
The next car over the rise
is my father
blind into the fog.
There is so much to talk about
at this moment,
so many lines of cause and effect
trembling taut into that gully.
How does my father choose—
with his mother’s ribs broken
and his new wife moaning from the ditch—
to carry the limp body
of someone else’s child
a mile over night fields
toward the insinuation of a roof?
Everyone is bleeding and starlight
drizzles over the summer wheat.
The poem holds them there
long enough to trace the flight
of an owl
from a cedar’s black minaret
its wings underlit by brake-lights.
Which of you, dear reader,
is in the next Oldsmobile
to clatter over the bluff
shouting help into your CB radio?
Which of you opens the front door
to wrap your unconscious boy
in quilts? Do you kill
who carries him?
In most endings I am never
born. In most,
you buy my family’s farm cheap
at auction. Who among you
is rushing the ambulance
past the county line at mile 67
when the tire blows? The story
moves through telephone wires
at the pitiless speed of rumor:
when my father reaches the house
with the boy expiring in his arms,
a white rectangle of light
sears his eyes forever.
In the cave of my mother’s
I listen to the first fire.
all from Passages North: 30th Anniversary Issue 30.1 (Winter/Spring 2009), Ed. Kate Myers Hanson