A future of flat land, white skies, and sunlight: three poems by B. H. Fairchild

Kansas

Leaning against my car after changing the oil,
I hold my black hands out and stare into them
as if they were the faces of my children looking
at the winter moon and thinking of the snow
that will erase everything before they wake.

In the garage, my wife comes behind me
and slides her hands beneath my soiled shirt.
Pressing her face between my shoulder blades,
she mumbles something, and soon we are laughing,
wrestling like children among piles of old rags,

towels that unravel endlessly, torn sheets,
work shirts from twenty years ago when I stood
in the door of a machine shop, grease blackened,
and Kansas lay before me blazing with new snow,
a future of flat land, white skies, and sunlight.

After making love, we lie on the abandoned
mattress and stare at our pale winter bodies
sprawling in the half-light. She touches her belly,
the scar of our last child, and the black prints
of my hand along her hips and thighs.


The Problem

The name of the bow is life, but its work is death.
—The Fragments

How in Heraclitus
ideas of things, quality, and event
coalesce—sun/warmth/dawn—
the perceiver/perceived, too,
not yet parsed, not yet,
and then the great Forgetting,
breath and breather, love and beloved,
world and God-in-the-world.
But then it comes upon us: that brightness,
that bright tension in animals, for instance,
that focus, that compass
of the mammalian mind finding
its own true North,
saintly in its dark-eyed,
arrow-eared devotion.
A kind of calling, a via negativa,
a surrender, still and silent, to the heart’s desire.
So in the cathedral of the world
we hold communion,
the bread of language
placed delicately upon our tongues
as we breathe the bitter air,
drinking the wine of reason
and pressing to our breasts the old dream of Being.


Keats

I knew him. He ran the lathe next to mine.
Perfectionist, a madman, even on overtime
Saturday night. Hum of the crowd floating
from the ball park, shouts, slamming doors
from the bar down the street, he would lean
into the lathe and make a little song
with the honing cloth, rubbing the edges,
smiling like a man asleep, dreaming.
A short guy, but fearless. At Margie’s
he would take no lip, put the mechanic big
as a Buick through a stack of crates out back
and walked away with a broken thumb
but never said a word. Marge was a loud,
dirty girl with booze breath and bad manners.
He loved her. One night late I saw them in
the kitchen dancing something like a rhumba
to the radio, dishtowels wrapped around
their heads like swamis. Their laughter chimed
rich as brass rivets rolling down a tin roof.
But it was the work that kept him out of fights,
and I remember the red hair flaming
beneath the lamp, calipers measuring out
the last cut, his hands flicking iron burrs
like shooting stars through the shadows.
It was the iron, cut to a perfect fit, smooth
as bone china and gleaming under lamplight
that made him stand back, take out a smoke,
and sing. It was the dust that got him, his lungs
collapsed from breathing in a life of work.
Lying there, his hands are what I can’t forget.

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A future of flat land, white skies, and sunlight: three poems by B. H. Fairchild