Tuesday May 21

JessWilliard Jess Williard’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, North American Review, Colorado Review, Southern Humanities Review, Lake Effect, december magazine, Barrow Street, Sycamore Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Oxford Poetry, and other journals. He is from Wisconsin.

The Wrath

The wrath is everywhere in southern
Wisconsin, though you have to try to see it.
It’s in the glass lights of the shopping
center as the sun begins to recede
and bored parents carry themselves
home. It’s in their cars and the careless
clasps at steering wheels, in the snap
of carseat safety straps and the gazes
they cannot manage to land
on the searching faces of their children—
not here, not now. Please. Too tired
to touch even each other as they slink
into the sanctuaries of their sleeping.
The wrath is in the humid breath
of cornstalks as thick and heavy
as the forearms of the breathing men
who tend to the machines who tend
to them. It’s especially there
when one of the trawl-armed
combines crimps a gear and sits
as silent as a plains creature of the world
before this one. Because a man comes,
brings a boy who sits on his shoulders
then wanders into the leaning grain.
The man clinks away below
the machine. The wrath watches
as the boy meanders his way
through the stalks without thinking
of a way back, without calling,
the husks shifting drowsily to hush out
ancient sirens. Out of range now, he can
begin to see the road. He can begin
to hear the trucks, their spirited breaths
to go and get things, bring them to where
they belong, to fill and unload without
so much as a single word.

Doctrines on Getting Lost

What could have been believed: the Quaker meeting house
and other shuttered rituals, God actually moving people

to speak in a room full of bowed heads. But I played baseball
and the parasol of the soft-toss was infinitely more to lay faith in

than something like a library for ambivalent believers.
It was here, in the sodden boiler room of a pre-war clinic,

where I was lost for the first and not the last time
and this is important because there were lights in my shoes

and you could follow me in a laser vigil. Believe in that.
Believe in no crust and the way bats dive for bits of gravel

as if they were insects, as if it weren’t really a driveway
and there weren’t really lies being thrown straight up into the sky.

Believe in this: my parents—gorgeous, stooping people
who have probably loved too much in their lives, adopted

two infants in rural New Jersey and married without telling
anyone. Believe in the cross-cut and blister bulge of lawn mowing

and running for no reason, running for miles. But you believed
in the miles. The second time I was lost it was because I drank

before I knew how with older, heavier boys, and woke
on the sooty beach of Lake Monona. Water lapped at my heels

and the soft tide sounded like an exhale, like something
older and more tired than human saying, “Hal-le, Lu-jah.”