Grandfather's Republic

The south wind holds him like a raw-boned girl,
burns his ears, then slaps his gaunt cheeks red
and drops him, a ragged, thatch-haired scarecrow propped
where nothing tempts the birds, where low hills thrust
their flint outcroppings through the tangled grama.
He’s choked his hard way back to eastern Kansas

from the war, and finds the landscape nothing
like France with its steel-pocked air, the yellow gas
that thickened in the draws while his Springfield
drummed a last tattoo for German youth.
At seventeen, overworked and crazy
with the farm, he swallowed every yarn

the recruiting sergeant dished up to the rubes
of the republic for a stint in meat-lined trenches.
Two winters hunched him down in ice and mud,
but here, spring-bent hackberry jazz their greens
like sizzle-cymbals, toss their minor shrapnel
like unrequited claims, like promises served

to the dying. Recalling every shade-gray face
that slipped beneath the grass, he hears the brass-clad
cartridge slide in its chamber, the solid clamping
home of the bolt. Toward Elk County, storm clouds
spread and boil frothing vapor over
the sky’s blue-dappled pan. This time, he vows

to find a shape to curb the monuments,
to cull the stars that wound the small-town windows
and paste them back into the spendthrift heavens.
A stir of pollen drops him to his knees,
coughing broken penance to the grassheads
as a circling peregrine calls out, declares

the stone rich grazing acreage a half-dead
paradise. And like a cloud, his head
expands to fill the space between his thoughts,
while in the weeds a king snake’s dry skin rustles
a trip-wire memory. Alive at last,
Grandfather crafts a new life from the cow bones

in no-man’s land, aims to stretch a woman’s
skin across the bleached white frame he’ll raise
as temple in this wilderness. The storm
bulls closer, forks its lightning tongue above
a small and crippled thing, alone on the prairie,
who jigs as raindrops kick the dust like bullets.

by John Jenkinson

Other poems of JENKINSON (2)

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