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Contemporary Poetry and Poetics






The wind is the weather.  The worst will blow
off the surge in a matter of moments—
the best is blessing, less rain or ruin
but no less a shock for the suddenness.
In the time it takes the wind to turn, or
a voice to turn into wind, we have gone
from the hulking balers to box lots lined
on long tables, books and bruised silver, out-
landish toys, tools, strange clothes, crates of nothings.
It's a bright day in a killer summer
and we're kicking through a wasted bean field,
trying to pick up, on a slow thermal,
the near-harmonic of twin auctioneers
setting the price for farm things from on high.


I wish I were like the famous poet
—disembodied, a voice out of nowhere—
postmodern and uninvolved. What I am
trying to get at is a general,
all-purpose experience—like those stretch
socks that fit all sizes.  The particular
occasion is of lesser interest
to me than the way a happening or
experience filters through me.  Words flit
by with the force of fate, missed.  A gray gull
coasts off on a costly breeze—then calls back
over one wing, unintelligible
as a critic, foundling, fond . . . it sounds like
nobody's story in particular.


And that would be fine, except here we are,
come for the auction of a neighbor's dead
farm, flooded, snowed out, burned out by drought
and years of subsidy undercosting,
another neighbor . . . in particular:
Thom. Dawson, his wife Rachel, their son, Sam,
in their particular death-throe, blown down
utterly by their bank, itself an arm
of a swollen corporate torso.  Look
at them leaning on air.  It's worse than
a wake.  The ones being mourned attend their
own ceremony, selling-off goods
and souls, and three mouths to feed.  Such pain is
serious, tangible, unironic . . .


Look at them leaning in plaid shirts and boots.
Will one pair of socks keep their six feet dry?
Shoppers!  Friends!  Neighbors!  Let us consider
the values at hand!  And let's help our friends÷
this could happen to you, too, anytime.
What am I bid for—and across the green
back yard, cut into dumpy subplots by
massive four-wheelers, rented U-Hauls, like
an argument echoing, the other
gaunt crier holds up a desk lamp, clicks it
on to prove it still worksWho'll give me five
bucks?  They're the gods hereabouts, who call down
the best price, brother-barkers, Jim-'n-I
Auctioneers (no kidding), in much demand.


My autobiography has never
interested me much.  Whenever
I try to think about it, I seem to
draw a complete blank.  The poet's sales rep:
All that is needed is for the reader
to be within range of the poem to
experience its beneficial effects.
There floats a reek of cattle on a breeze
from the gone barn—lilac and acid, sharp
as a pinch to the nose—and a shift in
the cheap wind twists the voices about, out
of their heads, meaningless as merchandise.
The crowd turns to vapor, dust, cloud.  A draft
off the lake tosses a gull like a cup.


Think of a place the gods have forsaken
and bathe it in sunshine and water.  That's
the fate of the farmhouse and fields, foreclosed
by bad fencing, big pickups. Bad weather,
as we say, bad as it comes, when what we
mean is luck, money, love: anything but
ash, berry, brambles, the trash when we've gone.
I wish we could all be like the poet,
out-of-body, misrepresentative
of our bad luck and lot, no one's story.
But this is what it means to have our life.
It means wanting to fly off on each wind.
It means living among neighbors but cursing
the gods, who talk down to us on sheer air.

© by David Baker


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