Forty Miles of
The Haunting of Verna’s Farm
Her door knocks at the oddest times
and she runs toward the sound of company,
finds an empty night as the moon casts
a starved light over the farm yard.
In the spring, she spreads bread crumbs
for robins, crows cackle for their share.
God, she believes, watches over
her home like a green-eyed lover.
Her door knocks at the oddest times.
She flings it open to find her dead
husband, his hat in hand,
her love for him a lightning rod.
Gone too soon, he left her with worn
clothes alive with his odor,
a growing brood, tobacco pipes
with teeth scars on the stems.
Too many children died early—whooping
cough, pneumonia—night after night
of bitter gales freeze her tears and her face
withers with the need to call their names.
No hills. Unchecked wind brings
words of the dead in a language
just north of English. Farms
scattered like matchsticks. Crows
circle miles away. On the farms,
houses stripped to shallow
gray, bare chapels hard earned.
They demand worship in coin unknown
to the young. Everyday magic consigned
to the pig sty. How can anyone measure
love here? On the plains, words
appear on the horizon, jump aboard gale—
a cheap ride to the next folly. Leave
the speakers dazed at their disappearance.
In some places, the dead and the living
are afterthoughts. Not here. Farmers
cling to what they know, who they
know. Their faces hard set against
prairie glare, the prayer on the edge
of their tongues poised for the last amen.
A Thousand Acres
The old man and woman cling to their house,
their days limp from his rage, her sorrow.
Geese and chicken strut the yard and wolves
circle closer every day. They keep
the riffraff away. The days offer the same old
insult, the nights’ ghosts shimmering on
prairie’s edge. Sprouted wheat the sure sign
of decay. What is killing them is memory
and hope. The woman sees their children
romp from the barn, screaming in delight
and the old man lives in the days
when he tossed hay bales twenty feet.
They will not visit their dead
at the Mennonite church. If belief
is strong enough, the dead are wiped away
and the children return. Neighbors bring
crude bread and sweet apple pie
and the men sneak a bottle of corn to ease
the pain. At summer’s end, failing
to summon mercy and white clouds,
the couple dies in final denial. The wolves
enter the yard. The trees turn fire red.