August 2002

Andrew Grace


Andrew Grace's poems are forthcoming in such journals as Poetry, Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, and Salt magazine. His first book, A Belonging Field, is due out in December from Salt Publishing (Australia). Born in 1978, Grace was raised on a farm in east-central Illinois. He will begin study at Washington University's M.F.A. program in August.

Placing your foot in a bucket of darkness,
three miles to home: ostrich farm, oat field

pimpled with buttonweed, Rayleigh Scattering dissolved
by mist above. Two hours you spent rivering

a womb-humid artery for floodwater to pass through
& now passage back through steamy membrane of June.

Language between a mother & father on a lit porch
densely sways like a horse bowing but not grazing.

You pass, imagine them saying, "Night is a combine
& we sit like field stones waiting to be scooped up,

rimracking the whole machine." Anything can be transmitted
over this open frequency, poem, grocery list, prayer, divorce.

She might confess, "Jeffery, I love myself,
yet when it is my turn to speak, I have nothing to say."

In a glade scoured clean of light, the span moon makes
can be covered over by a fingernail; a hornet's nest's worth

of cold in the lungs would be worth all the Seyfert
Galaxy. Past the house, coffin-long trajectories

of spit precede unsure footing. You whisper
your earliest memory of song which held no rhythm,

no harmony, only waverings of voice—litany of sweat
& sawfly, ditch of ragweed you seem to be sinking in to.

Only dark & those restless, unfractured sounds tensing night
do you allow yourself to be sure of—boozy drawl of bees,

wet cricket flex, hollow-noted organ of a train running the line
to a country eroded, rinsed clean, even now.




From the east: leaves the lavish colors of a map,
chicken feathers, newspapers, then more surreal objects:

wrenches, nests spilling baby rabbits, a muffler
snapped from a tractor's snout. In my father's eyes,

I could tell he knew what came next. Lightning traced
lines of the sky's palm & ice began to fall.

Like buckshot, like hardballs, like chunks of embodied
atmosphere. It refused the splash-drama of tears or rain,

falling dully, unchanged, impossibly so.
My father & I hunkered down in the basement

& in our world of chores could only think to pass the time by cleaning
mud off the floor, scrubbing hard circles, his muscles raw

& insane. I rinsed the soap, cornered a mouse with spray,
made it play dead until the thudding stopped.

When we climbed the stairs, the world had fallen to its knees,
branches exfoliated from rafters of trees, tractors dented,

windows vertigoed, barrels' splintered mouths agape
skyward, heliotropes growing from damp inner wood

punished earthward. A seed-bag impaled on the rooster's
iron mohawk waved the flag of a barn's bankrupted roof.

And everywhere a translucent carpet of spheres
bathed our ground in the unpolished silver of no moon.

"It's like we're growing glass," he said, dumbly crunching over
the rubble. After years, what I remember most

is from a photograph of my father standing
in our hail-shattered fields, corn strewn about like shoes

of the dead; something about how he held
his shoulders beneath a strict & necessary gravity.

Perhaps this picture is what kept me
from believing it was all just a dream, like he tried

to convince me, starting his story:
"The witch pulls her icy hair over a barrel of mice..."



Thornburn Park Inventory, 1987  

A sparrow, shotgun casing, nightcrawler's halves
wriggling in opposite directions. Damp loam

strung up by dandelion seeds spinning in place, softball
scalded into overgrowth, hissing.

Venus shotgun to a slick moon, pitcher in cut-offs

incensed & flailing. Half-gallon of blueberries
aching like one more day of summer. Sex & pigweed,

sweetness trapped in gasoline, all rising. An old man telling his wife
about the rules of baseball like a hoe hacks through volunteer corn.

Dog-bite on a purple-haired girl's lip, her smirk

lifted from Gauguin. Beneath the bleachers,
skunks hump & scrounge, irreverently brush

a mother's leg to shake a Sour Bomb
from its wrapper, raw sugar enough to make the base

of your brain fat. A boy bragging in a circle

how he steals his mother's bras & sleeps with them.
Perfect figure-four slide into home, he slaps dust

from his jeans; erection & "Where Eagles Dare"
tattoo prominent. Mosquitoes convulse barbed bodies

in spotlights, over trash cans, foil, limp udders of condoms.

A mock-lit game in the wooded perimeter where a girl
brings objects to a boy who has to close his eyes

& guess—nettle, adder's tongue, baby's breath.
An X of two roads, one unspooled North, bat-swooped,

John Deeres wedged in machine shed's rotting silt; the other rolling East

flanked with apple orchards & ramshackle. Beyond: grease-tongued
silence, breaklights, acoustic dust, to hang there, never to settle…




October full of dust, floating dimly then falling,
the sun burnished garish & whiskey.

Its light seeped like dye into the cracked ground.

Children softly erupted as their fathers sat in tractors,
pulling a curtain closed.

I was a child, among the rubble,

silos spilling bricks from the top down,
cold barns filled with mice,

pickup trucks half-crushed and abandoned: convicts
all banished to the same unfinished country.

The corn outgrew us, clogging our horizons
until all we could see was our small box of sky.

My father would come home so covered with dust
he looked like a scarecrow,

his eyes colored hollow with black marker.
Staring contests to pass the time, my brother & I,

tears running down our cheeks, mother walking in
& asking what's wrong?

I learned about disappearing

as the combine left its trail of crop-dust,
a blizzard of absence

billowing into the remaining stalks;
each row of corn was a collapsing wall to a museum

of emptiness. I have always felt

that I have been spared somehow. At night,
we snuck out into the freshly shorn fields

to make sure our neighbors were still there,
house cloaked for months by the climbing plants. We would see

the neighbor children had escaped with us, pale,
desperately chasing after themselves

across their moon-filled yard. We would send them
messages in code with our flashlights, saying

From over here, you look like ghosts



Andrew Grace: Poetry
Copyright © 2002 The Cortland Review Issue 21The Cortland Review