There can be no such thing as a "normal life" until
every oppressor swine has ransomed with his
blood the blood of this brave lad.
FROM AN I. R. A. FUNERAL EULOGY
Sorefooted, sunburnt, I escape
the hot pelt of the crowd for a little
shade, to watch from the sidelines
people trading places A baby,
eyes bugging, bobs by in its knapsack.
An old couple, in pursuit
of something severe and private,
hesitate, then find their narrow
seam through the traffic.
And as I sit there, pulled
by the argument of every smell—
cigar smoke, french fries, suntan oil—
by the whole, complex, bittersweet
scent of the gathered human—I wonder
what it would take to convert
these farm hands with mustard streaks
on their beards, so they might believe
in history. A scuffle? An explosion?
The helicopter, a dark locust swarm
spinning down over the trees?
I do not believe in one history,
but that among us the believers
are the dangerous ones.
Their minds are elsewhere.
When they eye a crowd from the side
they are counting the bodies.
And that it's lucky to be in the shade,
to be so prodigally bored,
resting one's feet, certain that
all this afternoon and the next, nothing
important will happen.
Through the open car window
seven needles in a haystack
snatched by ear out of the moving
prairie, like you
already fading, passed, gone.
If I could find it, it would be
points of sunlight glancing
off a brooch so near shades
of gold in these moving
grasses I could scarcely distinguish
it from the grasses. Like you
it is always gone.
The bird pulled it off like a string
of catches on this flying
trapeze which keeps swinging
back. If birds' songs simply mean
I’m here! I’m here!
then why a song so baroque?
How many notes did it have?
Which notes were extra?
In the Beatles' "Blackbird"
you again hear a meadowlark, its song
canned as the slow-motion replay
of a pass-reception on TV:
Love studied into pornography,
The bird falls off a see-saw,
hesitates, picks itself
back up on the rising board,
completes its song.
It does it again.
I prefer the song that eludes me,
this one which we are passing,
banjo music picked out
through wind and distance
already falling behind
gone and not gone.
All poetry on this page
Copyright © by Jonathan Holden, 2006
Enthroned like the captain of a ship
astride the bridge, I hold
the John Deere 7700 combine steady
on course southward straight
into the tide, hold unswervingly, hard
on the far shore. From this altitude
the world's been reduced to two
by long division - blond or blue - it's minimal,
the blondness dazzling, so impossible
it hurts, the field below almost
a fathom deep, transparent, pure sunlight
flashing over surfaces of water, its brilliance
eddying, crossed by whitecaps, cat's-paws,
its surface undulates for miles, it parts and heals
itself, it seethes, a shifting brightness, foaming
in a surf, its tresses sexual, glittering
in riffles, kneeling as I ride them. High
in my throbbing, air-conditioned cab
I'm so detached, I could laugh
at the clichés I learned in Social Studies,
"breadbasket of the nation," and those documentaries,
"The Story of Steel," "The Story of Coal,"
duller than my teachers, who were
immutable, balding, broken-down adults, all
plagiarists reciting faithfully their pages
of official facts. I understand now
why farmers so stubbornly remain.
Swinging clockwise again around
the corner and lowering the header back
into the bays of waving wheat that shimmer now,
so pale, so Scandinavian, away, away, away
toward the horizon, I know why
farmers are such incurable romantics.
They count upon some central place
like this, where what a person makes
is tangible, valued by the bushel, where
an inch still costs a an inch—this place that must
sooner or later refute the solipsist.
— for Ruth Mortiz
As you step outdoors you'll enter a hot barn
with a moist haystack inside.
The cardinals will dart like embers, pierce
pierce your nerves with their bent sabres.
You'll be intimate with traffic for miles around.
But if you look up where the twigs
all stiffly point, you'll see silent
pandemonium, ugly rumors,
vagrant clouds loitering at loose ends.
It's a schizophrenic air.
By supper the sky will be uprooted,
a garden hopelessly gone to seed.
Gray broccoli will float by disconnected
from the ground, fat sooty toadstools,
a species you've never seen before,
will sprout beside swollen fungi
and other gray growths, strange weeds trailing
their severed roots, flowers the color
of bad bruises just opening into blossom,
slowly moving areas of combustion.
Even cauliflower as it rolls past
will be misshapen
before the forest comes
I like this low, comfortable kind
of conversation which the rain’s
been having with itself all day
as it goes about its business,
deftly assembling its tiny parts,
confident, in no great hurry,
discussing, perhaps, the different
gutters it has seen, the taste of rust
in New York, the rust in Chicago.
Or perhaps comparing notes
about the finer points of roofs,
where best to creep to find
flaws in asphalt shingles,
or maybe it’s murmuring in rain-jargon
over different grades of redwood,
the rate they rot. No end of stories
that it could be telling—
the drudgery of cycling in a monsoon,
monotony of equatorial assignments,
the same steamy party each afternoon.
Or maybe the gossip’s of some great
typhoon, the melee of another
grand convention. Or is it muttering
about the way some thunderstorms
rig their elections, the social
life of rain in some bayou,
as the rain keeps up its quiet
shoptalk—the level, reassuring
talk of people who are comfortable
again, sure what they’re doing,
graceful in their work, and accurate,
serious in the way that rain
given over to their task
of touching the world.