The gambrel-lofted barns, worn siding painted in trade
for advertising (Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco fades
like the veteran who brushed it), fall to their knees
in axles and bundled wire, pigweed’s graying
spikes, and bow their hay-points toward autumn dirt.
They haven’t a prayer. The new kids on the site
sport galvanized steel sides, corrugate sunlight
as it wiggles its hips across the winter wheat sprouts
west of Garfield. Impervious to drought
or flood, the ravening of weather’s appetite,
they stud the tilled and irrigated prairie
fly-specked with huddled little towns where weary
farmers bunch around the Co-op to plan
late fall’s erections. City-boys truck the new barns
in, drop them disassembled in the chaff.
But, all barns chew the same cud: honed tools,
new leather, feed sacks—and purge their bowels
of cogwheels, blunt hoes, old spurs’ rusty rowels.
Someone waits for love in a half-lit hayloft.
Out behind the barn, the kittens learn to smoke.
Originally Published in: Seems
Earth as a Place of Burial
In brindled file, the Herefords, Angus amble
loose-muscled, heavy boned, and plump
with the Flint Hills’ fading grasses,
as we loll at the barbed fence-line,
a clutch of broad-brimmed flowers
shooting the breeze around the weed stems
wedged between our teeth.
The cattle disregard our teeth.
Mothers curl their thick, pink tongues
against the matted calf fur
even though the calves stand near
full growth themselves and chew their cud
with a leisure known to those for whom
desire is just another bull beyond a fence.
Easing to yellow, bluestem battens
down another summer. A choke
of sumac bleeds along the creek, where woods
gnarl up in gold and mixed siennas,
the lime-green snap of hedgeapples,
grapevine’s tough gray twist.
The world stumbles
into its slow season as manure steams
an age-old sweetness
across the pasture’s hoof-pocked surface
into morning’s hesitant frost.
Someone from the food chain glistens—
a bag of bloodied leather
emptied in a carnage of bottlebrush
where the meadow meets the trees.
This is what we remember of the night,
what the brooding herd repeats.
Jigging her bell in the morning haze,
the lead cow tolls what winter promises—
dormant frogs in mud;
the death of grain;
our earth a hard and frozen thing;
farm dogs and the loading ramp.
Originally Published in: American Literary Review
South of Red-Wing
I wake up on the wrong side of the equinox,
geese in isosceles stitches
trace a path down the world’s face, stop
to ravish the harvest’s sun-dried trash
piled in furrows and hedgerows.
A clatter of crows pleats the air
with black derision, brushes a red-wing
off the taut wire of her discretion.
Summer’s long truce broken, the mice
have returned to the catfood, gnawed
dank passage to that heavy yellow sack,
peppered our floor with their delicate scat.
This bounty of need, feeling
the leaves crack as the cat stalks
his own red meal, whiskers his way
through the crisp buffalo grass.
Something has burrowed into the half-assed
pumpkin patch—skunk, badger,
another hair-shirt mendicant
telling her beads along the food chain,
clicking the beetles’ lacquer-thin shells,
snapping brittle seed-hulls
in her frowsty cell, far from the sun’s ache,
taking no thought for the morrow.
Thin fires kiss the evenings now
beneath the railway trestle; and the men
with cardboard signs, trolling the highways
in denim and flannel, all drift south.
Originally Published in: Quarterly West
...also an AWP Intro Journal Award
Why Orville & Wilbur Built an Airplane
Life, as we suspected, is a bicycle
lacking a kickstand: pedal
along for a while,
then lay it down. Some
of us glide serenely down
a long, easy hill on three-
pound Italian racers, scarcely
using any of their twenty-two
well-lubricated gears. Others
must dismount to walk
these leaden Western Flyers up
that hot, steep slope, mugged
by heavy corduroys under a midsummer
sun, light from the heavy chrome
fenders kissing our eyes closed,
the bright air that clogs our passage
thickening with effort—the shaky
wire baskets filling with rocks.
Originally Published in: The Georgia Review
All poetry on this page
Copyright © by John Jenkinson, 2006