Vire-en-Champagne, April 1919

Two months shy of a century ago,

it’s been raining in France,

great sheets snapping like sodden flags across the farmer’s field –

And my grandfather’s father,

a child of German immigrants,

sits down in soldier’s boots, and looking at the crops with a farmer’s eye,

writes a few lines to his brother

in Barnesville, Minnesota.

He writes nothing

about the rescue of the Lost Battalion

after five days surrounded by Germans in the Argonne forest; but

he asks Alfred to tell Ma

that he got through it all right, he guessed.

He reports that the winter wheat

on this farm where they wait to ship out, was yellow, and poor.

He taps his pencil, then adds that

they’d been playing a lot of baseball,

because the Great War, the war to end all wars, was done.

He pauses, looking at the field

where he doesn’t belong, and finally asks

how the Titan is running, and whether they’ve planted, thinking

probably, of the cold black soil

drinking up the snow melt with a fierce thirst,

and the angled sun spreading like butter on the dark bread of the soil

after a long, dark, Midwestern winter,

and of his flax seeds,

thousands of tiny furled, unsent messages, tucked away in dry burlap.

He will come home

and bury them for ten days

until tendrils reach up, and up, into the sky that stretches lazily

across the great Midwestern plain –

each blue flower will live just one day.

But it’s hundreds and hundreds,

no, tens of thousands of them – that will open in wave upon wave across the field,

answering the call of the unbroken blue sky.

At the Nick Offerman Book Reading Event In Milwaukee

 

There is a man built like a hay bale in the row in front of me,

a blue flannel shirt, he comes in alone, jams his long legs

behind the seat in front of him, and

much like a bale of hay, he speaks to no one

but stays hours and hours to have

Mr. Offerman, Ron Swanson himself, sign his book

As the crowd dwindles slowly;

My daughter and I watch the girl with blue hair and

A white bow in it who has snuck down to have her book signed

ahead of her assigned row in the balcony; we are Midwestern,

we bear the injustice stoically;

We talk to the couple next to us,

A teacher from Johnson Creek and her husband,

The kids behind at grandma’s, they are reveling in their

Night out and late dinner, yawning and drinking Red Bull

And I am doing the math, about 10 signing seconds

per fan; there are more than 100 people left when equity breaks down

and many of those seated behind us who have moved down

are called ahead of us, and despite

Having spent two hours waiting already,

The cost-ratio benefit falters, and we head for pajamas and sleep –

Bidding our new friends goodbye and

Godspeed;

The man in the blue plaid shirt

Standing stoically in the place he has taken,

holding his book in his arm like a talisman

warding off foolishness, loneliness, youth,

no one pulling him toward a warm bed,

only the wind across the unbroken spring field

will welcome him home hours from now.