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.

Midwest Poultry Show

Behind me a man at the Minneapolis airport

says: “I’ll see you at the Midwest Poultry Show”

except what I hear is not that but

“Midwest Poetry Show” which makes

 

slightly less sense but it’s too late,

I am already thinking of their sleepless night,

all the poets waking before dawn

and coaxing their balky poems into cages

 

lined with torn strips of newspaper

that are soon bunched into nests and absently

pecked at and read while they, the poems, make

derisive crowing comments to each other as the poets

 

drive their dented trailers carefully into the sunrise,

drinking bitter black coffee from the Hudson or Farmington

Kwik Trip until they arrive at a metal barn, bleary-eyed

and hopeful, now with combs and scissors and spray bottles

 

in hand they are fluffing out long metaphors and snipping

at tufts of too-flowery and winding prose, was that

too much? Well, it’s too late now, it’s all over

but the crying as bespectacled readers circle the cages

 

skimming unfairly, squeezing the stanzas and

splaying the words out at the ends, looking for

allusion, alliteration, allegory, imagery, rhymes

and near rhymes, iambic pentameter and free

 

verse while the poets stand silently near, cups of coffee

long gone cold under the giant ceiling fans, kicking stray

punctuation like curses along the concrete floor, already

reading the look in the readers’ eyes, thinking about next year,

 

when, surely, but surely,

they will place.