Walking through the park,
sometimes I stop — foot
mid-air, so as to not crush
a wild violet or prairie aster —
and think:

nothing is more precious
than anything.

But that doesn’t mean
I shouldn’t watch where I’m going
or mind how I get there.

How he got there, I am not sure.

His herd was two pastures over
nestled beneath a large hedge,
its ground-sprung roots polished
by an undying instinct to keep warm.

The shortest distance between
seems improbable: a drainage ditch,
two fences — one hog wire, one barbed —
and another row of Osage orange,
more ancient than the hands
that built those fences and dug that ditch.

It’s not odd for a calf to get loose; to neck its way through thickets or find dead spots in electric fence, searching for younger, more tender stalks — especially come fall when…

We do not walk around with memories.
Rather, we put them up in homes,
distinct residences inside our minds;
there, they continue to grow, to age
and change — though not like us,
not in this impersonal linear way.

Some memories age faster than we do.
They become of another time, one
barely recognizable, appearing in sepia
before our lidded eyes at night,
whereas others hold their color, growing
more vivid throughout the years —

concentrating images and sounds, scents and impressions into their purist forms, and in that way, they become simpler, childlike; they play with other children, from…

Early evening,
late winter snow.

The noon after,
the forest quiet,

fine flakes float,

seem to rise
from the ground,

not even

can fall.
The sun breaks

the silence
giving way

to birdsong;
blood spots

a glade —
the hungry night,

the tired day.
All will soon

to spring.

but not today.

A hibiscus bud refuses to unfurl,
Desiccating in August’s mouth.

Familiar with the dark and shape
Of things, it thinks it knows itself.

It is dying with knowing.

Tonight is clear.
The sky, creosote.
Distant embers pulse
Throwing purple at our shadows.
We stand huddled and smoke.
Talk in grain-hoarse hollers
About some poor woman
One of us fucked,
Or someone strung out —
More fucked than us.
The field of stars between us fades.
Secretly we all wish we weren’t here,
But we are.
So we shuffle back inside to the bar
And grab another triple well.
It is dark
Across town, near city limits;
A great pillar of ash rises above
The winter-bitten trees
Surveying what was lost.
Reads its side.
That is all that’s left.

The heavy hardwood frame rings hollow
As is knocks against the sill, like a poorly docked boat.
Crooked and gapped as an old fisherman’s grin,
The window whistles with each wave of wind
That breaks against the building’s craggy face —
The song before the storm.

Inside, dry and warm, I watch the streets
Roil with activity beneath white-capped trees:
Drenched couples dash for cover, cars drift
Cautiously through intersections, and leaves
Whip wildly like forgotten fishing line
About unfazed birds’ feet.

Unlike them, I’ve not witnessed this before. Behind pursed brick and blinds, I’ve fretted Over performing tired tasks…

Inside the promise of night,
I gave your letters to the river.
They did not float like paper cranes
but slipped away like flesh
beneath a t-shirt and rumpled jeans —
pulled on with fragile hands,
made heavy by golden rings —
in the silent hours of the night
when furnaces refuse to hum
and floorboards don’t think to creak.

Bale hands bleed like wheat From wiry stalks, much stronger than they seem; Cut on teeth, combined to derive Heavens from bare plots between the trees. This is their Garden now. It is evident in their long heavy strides, Something between lumbering and pride; Shoulders loose in the July heat, Slightly rolled back like the terraces they work. Bale hands are a summer thing. A few weeks at most. Each day, hours stacked fifteen high, Like the loads of straw Hauled from sun-bleached fields To pole barns shaded by windbreak pines; Where, in the evenings, bale hands swat Sweat bees…

I thought the room would be colder. Perhaps, it’s all the robes you see in movies And TV, but it was a balmy seventy-four. We didn’t know what to do with our stares, So, we threw them to the floor — like kids With toys they don’t want anymore. But we were the parents now, not husbands Sons or daughters. In her face, I saw the puzzle of all of ours; her eyes Worked around the edges and corners Of a picture she knew but couldn’t complete; Her lips grappled with each other, beating Back whatever insults were hurled her…

James Hall

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