PoetryWinter 2021-2022

Two Poems — Todd Robinson

I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Nebraska

A mass dream of pastures, brome pelted by starlight, villages folding
in on themselves to feed the sleeping cities, sandy roads to riverbeds
running, women crippled by faith, barn swallows blasting from haymows
into pitiless exposing light. To coax alfalfa from a seabed, breath

from a bronchitic chortle, fencerows and shelterbelts from a feeling,
another Pall Mall slipping from its box, the sky meth-white and Lutheran
over Holy Sepulchre where a lawn-mower shreds shooters of Fireball
into plastic mulch over the dusty exhalations of those hopeful dead,

mephitic wind off the feedlots frighted with funk that wafts its way
past rattling chain-links failing to hold the guts in, Keno parlors
and withered taverns promising in lazy neon light effluvial warmth,
pickle cards the last testament to a God who cannot eat enough meat

to sate the dizzy weathervanes, drought or melanoma any afternoon
away, days drunk on doldrums, mulberries drooping over fencerows,
garden of a nation graced in herbicides and hymns, seven million cattle
fancy-dancing in a whirl of shining motes and mud, of bones and of blood.

title after Diane Seuss

Sandhill Elegy

How many nights did we all float together in the big red ranch house
toward our unravelling? Down the reedy bank the North Loup carved
its name. West of town the endless low of cattle. Her father’s vodka
bottles stowed wherever he happened to sway when the last invisible
drop disappeared him while I warmed his fairest daughter, satellites
tracking over our sleep under all that frozen starlight and smokers’
coughs, weather channel on the console tv with its slow storms ever
spooling, sandhills releasing summer’s diurnal heat, her gone brother’s
blue t-bird gutted in the garage, alfalfa mill at the edge of town puffing,
the Big Rodeo’s white paint peeling. That decade we came back every
month to where she started, played croquet in Nebraska grass, led
kitchen conga lines over thin linoleum to Jim Beam burn. Her father’s
big-bellied baritone from the field queen’s cabin, her mother’s dark rasp.
They died in our year of madness, put to rest by priest-drone in blizzard.
We rationed their mason jars of tomato sauce, salsa, chokecherry jam
until the last one ghosted open like a saint’s reliquary, gave long-gone
water, earth, sun and time grateful and slow, nothing left for it to hold.  

Todd Robinson is the author of two books of poetry, most recently Mass for Shut-Ins (Backwaters Press, 2018). His poems have appeared in North American Review, Weber, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, Sugar House Review, Cortland Review, and A Dozen Nothing. He is an Assistant Professor in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Find him at https://www.toddfather.net/

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