late winter in menard county

1

new salem in patches of snow
I see how the culture
spoke in its hand tools
smooth curves of grain cradles
handles in good polish
for apple butter paddles
and things of strict importance
flails reap hooks tarbuckets


then there are the fabrics
those subtle colors
native elderberry and walnut
subdued horizons of goldenrod
woven after patience
that must have been godly
with flax hackles teasels
drop spindles


and the quilts and spreads
their thimbled excellence
stitchery that explained the years
bear paw maple leaf ohio star
abstractions of secret hands

2

well everybody in petersburg
got out of the house by eleven
they turned up at the middle school
where the kiwanis
had a pancake and sausage day
people were tired of winter
like braid rugs slung over porch rails
politics in the cafeteria
hello Im running for supreme court
how are you today
not bad for a gentile
are you related to the state senator
I am the state senator

3

edgar lee masters your town
has a new day-care center
it is going up on the back rear wall
of mentor grahams old house
you must have known it the one
with the port wine brick
and the clumsy gingerbread
holding up so well for a teachers digs


your house is public now
and visitors can see the scratched table
where you wrote your proscriptions
for country graveyards


the town made you a fine afternoon
for your centennial did you know that
the school band in the gymnasium
played vaguely through several
variations and there were
pretty good speeches
and a commemorative stamp

4

this is a late winter river
a dangerous sangamon
with a jerry-built dam
the awkward angle rebuffs the current
it backs in an eddy
below the west bank
and small whirlpools
surface and disappear in it
like mouths in a pit
an insidious babble
whispering in a sick mans soul


it was the weekend after taxes
as people remember
when kevin washington
lost his life here with the child
he tried to save lifted on his arm
so it was mid april


all in a swollen spring


the whole town knows
the sangamon is a living current
that does not abide still water


so some here will tell you
the river sucked him down
and evened a score with his grandfather
who snatched so many from the river