There’s milkweed around the mailbox and lots of mail
every week. Everyone’s waiting for the weather to improve.
The moisture in the dirt in the cold in the field makes it hard.
The clothespins in the basket on the porch
get gray from the cold. In the morning, the plow blades are covered in frost
so heavy you can write in it—a window, a name.
I pull my shirt sleeve over my finger.
When I was young, balancing on a log in the rain,
inside our house
everyone watched for what I was doing. Every now and then
they’d call to me saying
it’s time to come in. Every time they’d say so
I’d have to tilt my arms around again. Sometimes
my mother would come and get me
take me in by the hand where even the wood grain in the wood floors
moved in the sound of the wind outside as she
rubbed my feet and arms, trying to get me back warm.
On my way to town at dawn I saw
some geese gathered at the pond
tugging at weeds while women sat around the pump
scrubbing one side of a collar against the other.
The horses let out for the day nudged each other, except one
rubbing its nose against a post
in the morning north of Bloomsville. That dog
that did not belong on our property: I was so nice to it at first
that dog with no one to take the crust from its eyes
going from field to field, its thigh the color of ash
passing through the tall grass
back to the coop where it scared the chickens so much
the rooster tried to spur us when we went to feed them.
In the ear of my heart I heard all leaving
the breathy prayers of my family every evening.
Eggs knock in a pot of boiling water every morning
yolks turning paler yellow
the elbows of my family, my brother’s family around the table.
Everyday heaving vegetables out of the earth
spreading seed at the chicken coop.
I smell dinner coming; the butter sweats in the dish.
My mother used to cut
our hair in the grass, to hold the scissors at my ear and tell me
to sit up in the chair as its legs sank slowly
into the lawn until the roots and runners stopped them.
The bird bath tilted in the wet earth.
My hair looked funny in the grass.
I used to believe I could sleep if I had
only the shade of a picket fence to lie in—
sleep so deep that nothing would be able to grow under me.
When some animals can’t get shade,
they can think of nothing else. We learn this
watching cows in the summer. Here, in the sun,
I think of how big a trunk I would need
to have shade enough to sleep in, for how long
I could sleep how far
from the tree before
the sun moves it away from me.
of stained glass dangling in the window
casts colors among the shadows the window casts
inside the house on the floor during the day. At night in the yard
lit by the light of the house falling
over the bird bath and the different colored grass
where that other tree grew once: a piece of all of us
who wake first, feel the dew leave the dawn,
pat the dog, its torso an echo chamber, its ear like a conch
in which the ocean still turns.
When it was time to go in,
they’d knock on the window
and look into the night where they thought I’d be.
Then, if I didn’t come someone would come and get me,
take me by the hand, help me stand. But I—you—
you’d wriggle your wrist.
Nathaniel Farrell was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. He holds a doctorate in English Literature from Columbia University in New York City. He is the author of Newcomer (Ugly Duckling Presse) — a personae poem narrated by an anonymous soldier and set in an undefined military campaign — and Lost Horizon (UDP), a long poem inspired by the American mall, interstate landscapes and suburban pastorals. He teaches composition at Washington University in St. Louis and hosts a weekly experimental music program on 88.1 KDHX, St. Louis' community-supported, freeform radio station. His collages have been exhibited at Bushel (Delhi, NY), and Some Other Ways — his collaborative poetic project with Jessica Baran on the first month of Trump's presidency — was part of the World Chess Hall of Fame's Imagery of Chess exhibition.