Earlier this year I published my first chapbook of poems. It’s titled “man love… memories of growing up male in rural america.” To create it, I used brief narrative poems to take a memoir-type look at the relationships of the men in my family and their shared expectations for one another. Of course, because it’s a memoir approach, the subject matter is presented from my perspective… the memories are mine. 

The collection begins with my earliest memories of life growing up on a Kansas family farm during the 1950s and 60s. Then it extends forward to times when I had sons of my own, and my connection to the farm had been severed. As a chapbook, the poems serve as snapshots along a timeline rather than an attempt to provide a more inclusive memoir. It’s a poetic photo album.

The earliest of the poems in this project came together more by accident than intention, having been written over a period of several years. Then as I began to focus more on writing poetry and spent less time working on other types of projects, I recognized a connection in these poems which pointed me toward making an effort to resolve a confusion of memories and feelings from my childhood and later life. Much of that confusion dealt with the challenges of trying to live up to the demands of masculinity put forth by my father, which often ran counter to my own nature, which was much more sensitive. I pursued the subject until I felt I had expressed what I needed to get out and could move on. 

The poems below are the first and last poems in the collection.

 

         seed wheat

my earliest memory begins with
me standing on a hundred-pound gunny sack
filled with seed wheat

the wheat was hard red winter wheat
bread wheat
and the sacks lined the wall
of the granary on the farm where
my father and i were born

there was a gap in that row of seed sacks
no more than a foot or two
but when you’re three or four
that’s a nervy jump

my older brother made it but
not me… not quite
i felt my feet touch the bag and clearly
saw the galvanized metal tub just before
my forehead kissed it hard

next thing i knew, my dad was running
to the house, whistling the way only he could whistle
me under his right arm, face down
blood streaming

i remember the doctor’s office and my head being taped
then sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table
watching her give some woman a permanent

they made a big deal out of my bandaged head
but i knew they weren’t worried about me
as much as how that permanent was going to turn out

 

          arkansas river roads

these are the roads i walked when i was young
loose sand
running along fields of wheat

edged with the white bark of dead cottonwood
rising like totems to even harder times
from the weeds and scrub too smart
to be plowed under

i didn’t hike these roads for pleasure
i walked them to do a job
to get from here to over there

but that doesn’t mean i didn’t dream
didn’t feel the sand making a place for me

hinting as it rolled beneath my boots that
it was my sand and the rough grass
that grew through it was my grass

i remember the taste of it
the endless need for hope and tough hands
and the wistful way it settled in each evening

 

(acknowledgement: “arkansas river roads” was first published in the journal Verseweavers and awarded a first place prize in the 2015 Oregon Poetry Association competition.)