The Hollow Men

:::this is the way the world ends:::

Another Shameless Poetry Post

Summer Clearing

We pick locusts
sliding fresh from the dunes
like little Saint John the Baptists
wandering in our wildness.
Our little wilderness, sanctuaried
by a wheat truck and a chain,
arrives each time the metal-gray auger
slips under the patch of dust-
blue prairie sky.

We imagine the wide mouth
of the auger smiling at us
long and trembling. Comfortable
skin, tin-flecked and spotted,
reminds us of great grandma;
how the back of her hand
would turn over our faces
seeing with feeling,
expressions given two
generations away.
…how the back of her hand
shimmered with the thickness of opals,
deep and complex in buried years, but

signing her failing liver. Grandma goes,
the auger returns like a great benefactor
feeding us in her place,
warm in memory.
With a grin, the animal repeats
familial habit, pacing over
four rust-red walls that buckshot has
bored through, leaden weevils
tunneled by the Bowmans next door.
Spiral grates with dust and we hear
the steady slice of wheat coming
as grandpa kneads the metal
knob forth and back in the meat-
and-honeyed palm of his hand.
Golden in the summer
clearing, the Jordan comes to us.

We laugh until
the sandy slide of wheat
cuts our voices
out and we can only
grab as our mouths fill
with deserts; our lungs
split as the hot
chaff belches into them
a violent resuscitation,
Stream rolls us under
and bites
like tiny spring hailstones.

When father pulls my shoulders
loose and shakes the grain free
I don’t only feel it, again
I am born into the yeasty light.
Shallow scrape of machine-missed
chaff arches our back until
our heads are bleach-blonde
keystones to June.

Fingers dip, till, push, pluck
ripped bodies of grasshoppers still
throeing, newly cut.
We squeeze them tenderly and yell at the combines,
our fingers chalk green with mercy.

3 Comments

  1. I wrote this poem in my last senior year of college, and I’ve thought it’s one of my best (which still only makes it of dubious quality). I especially love the last stanza. I’ll elucidate more in the future, but I wanted to post this for now.

  2. Toby, this is great. I’ve really appreciated you putting some poems up. I especially like this one–it whirls out of that Kansas scene, and there’s a great, intuitive music to it, at least to my ear. I agree about that last stanza. The poem picks up in its last half or so.

    What I get from it, in addition to the wonderful description, is a real sense of the generations–the great grandma, the grandma, the father, and you. So there’s something here about passing on tradition, of feeling your way through that tradition, the way the great grandmother sees by touch.

    But your language has a real torque to it, and the description is thick and often surprising, and you swerve really well from the visual and tactile description to the abstracted level–mercy, and the Biblical allusions of Saint John the Baptist and the Jordan, and the baptismal aura of the farm…

    Good to have some poetry, appropriately, on this HM site. I hope to share some as well.

    –Shotts

  3. Toby,
    I’m not sure I follow all of the imagery in this, but I like the poem most from “We laugh until…” As Shotts mntioned, I feel from that point on there is a consistent music and a certain ring to the word combinations that I appreciate. That portion seems free of any awkward moments. But of course the latter part feeds on the earlier descriptions. Thanks for posting something so personal. There is something sad in it, even implied in the title, to me. The end of a golden era. I don’t know if that’s how you intended it, but it seems quite timely.

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