A Meditation on the Land
—remembering a farm foreclosure.
For Darrell Ringer, 1953–93
“Thank you,” he said, while the black eyes
drilled from the shadow of his ballcap
as we stood in the sunbaked square
of a Kansas town where we’d just rallied
against such business as no one with honor
should dare to defend—then drove
over pocked macadam, between shoulders
cascading with purple wild flowers, wheat
turning green to gold—the field after field,
the rich carpet called forth, turned over,
culled with such care that I, for one,
don’t have blisters enough to imagine—
and beneath it the black earth seethes
with world-feeding life. Then we arrived
at his farm. Beautiful, I’d often thought,
this life, how the green soybean hug
at the earth and alfalfa explodes into pink
and animals trudge toward us in the slow-
motion rhythm of paddock-bound shadows
until their heads hike up with quick interest
when haybales are pitched with a thud
between the tarnished steel rails of the crib.
But the earth and its moods are uncertain,
despite the disconsolate pleading it gets
when sleep doesn’t come, that a storm
please pass by without flooding at harvest;
that a drought not set in, the wind not whisk
topsoil to a powder-dry ash floating off
in a glitter-filled cloud to the red
of a summer-long sun. And of course
words are addressed to the Notice of Debt
that’s attached like a leech to the title,
which is after all a mere sheet of paper
approved by the courts but without
the least smell of wet dirt to grace it.
And of all he foresaw or was faced with,
what he couldn’t agree to was losing this land
without even a fight. They might take it all,
but the fight, at least—they couldn’t take that.
Ghost Town Nocturne
We knew we’d never return.
Before the weeds grew tall, we knew,
before the rich dirt buried the town, we knew.
Buried all who once lived there, including two lovers
who always came late for work, because to the question
what lends meaning to life—work or love—they’d already
arrived at an answer, and it was compelling. And this meaning,
which they embraced so tight they could feel its heartbeat—
this meaning—its cadence and flood—they meant to preserve
like a fruit in the sweetness of time. And afterwards, the sigh,
not so much for a moment lost forever but for its fullness.
And their total absorption in each other, the baffling minutes
afterwards when they stared amazed, asking almost in unison,
what are you thinking—a penny for your thoughts. One moment,
sly teenagers, too knowing to admit to any such wonder, the next,
die-hard believers in love. Until their cell phones screamed out
hurry for work! Which required no small sense of purpose
and great strength for the toilsome moment of tearing-away.
But making it on time was not really of lasting concern,
since his workplace first, then hers, went out of business
when the roll-downs slammed hard and fast to the tarmac.
Then a silence in which you could have heard a pin if it
dropped in a tub of curdled milk forgotten on a sideboard
while the town emptied out. And if you went back now—
and I say you because I never will—you might find a lonely street
and a ramshackle porch where you could listen for that one
moment, the precise musical measure that flickers like the light of a star
from a long way off, like a sound you can hear, barely, before it’s lost—
from the beginning of time or the end of it. Or from the instant
two lovers shared as they surged in the quickness of time.
Your Fugitive Life
A truck zooms by, the sound of the engine
rising, then falling into the distance
of your long-lost life. Will you wake up
back in the windowless cell, alone and without
wife or girlfriend to visit you? Or in a new life,
the old name, the old trademarks and labels
washed off, the crud of a lifetime scrubbed clean
by the breathtaking rush of your escape?
Learn how to hide in plain sight. First of all,
discard old habits, which mark you as sure as a fingerprint.
Throw them off track by visiting museums instead of old haunts
like pool hall and dog track; on Sundays, read the Times in a coffee shop.
Your new name, your alias, will work fine, but put flesh on the bones
by borrowing facts from people you’ve known. Like Groundhog,
your friend with the nickname—steal a few items from his identity,
like the divorce, and the daughters he can’t see
because of that stupid argument with his wife. You don’t need to say
what it was about, just mutter under your breath when the topic comes up.
And remember they’re your daughters, she’s still your wife.
But the nickname—that would stand out. Besides,
you’re not really a “groundhog,” no rounded shoulders,
no eye tooth. Disguise and invent, mix colors like a painter, but always
blend in. A good tip: carry a keyring wherever you go, although
you don’t own a car or home, not even a lock
for toolbox or bike. Keep your lies straight. Smile forthrightly
as if you have nothing to hide, especially when you chat up
a boss or a cop. You’ll have to work under the table, which means
no checks from welfare or unemployment. Or Social Security,
which wouldn’t amount to much anyway. No drivers’ license,
no image of your face, which looks quite distinguished now
with bifocals, which now you’re older you can’t read without,
and the new salt and pepper beard. Give it some gusto. It’s almost fun
once you’ve learned to lie to yourself. Still, it might hurt.
You’d like to see your daughters. By now, the oldest is grown.
Beethoven composed L’amante impaziente
to a lyric by Trepassi, a lesser court poet,
which means he had to put up with—my,
that was gorgeous; darling, I couldn’t
agree more with… a superfluity
from the rich and famous in exchange
for a place at a truly magical table
including starpower, a few snide jokes,
and a dessert of buttery biscuits topped
with sweet lemon drizzle or Florentines
in dark Perugian chocolate, take your pick
or enjoy it all. But let’s leave aside
the court and its favors; the dubious merit
of the rich and famous; not to mention
that Beethoven himself for all we know
was in love with Florentines—leave all
that aside and listen to the music as it
strives for rich notes of longing, a cadence
of frustrated yearning. For aren’t we all—
poets, artists, musicians, workers of every
stripe and persuasion—aren’t we all
lovers? aren’t we all impatient?
David Salner has worked all over the country as an iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, bus driver, cab driver, garment laborer, longshoreman, teacher, and librarian. His work appears in Threepenny Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, North American Review, Ploughshares, and many other magazines. His fourth volume of poetry is The Stillness of Certain Valleys. His debut novel A Place to Hide was released by Apprentice House Press, 2021. Innisfree Poetry Journal did a retrospective of Salner’s writing that featured more than twenty poems (current issue, Issue 33).