Two Poems

by Ryland Bowman

Song for the Soft-Spoken

One year, someone made their liquor in lead pipes
and everyone’s face stopped working on one side.
Winters, after we cut the leaf, we let the dogs sleep
in the smokehouse to keep the rats away.
The hickory smoldered and smelled how I thought
the church organ clunked and roiled
when my father came back from the war.

Some pot of soup beans,
some coffee drunk from a saucer.
From town, the first creek bed.
Before Eisenhower built the big roads,
and one place was poor as another.

Carbon thick on the globe glass,
reading the family records, the list of sires
and sons, Jesse through Jesus, in the back of our only book,
onion paper over the prints of the shepherd telling
soldiers stories. We looked for the eggs the hen hid
at the woods’ edge. Kash used the mules to skid the logs down
for the second house, cut cedar shakes with an adz
and sent us to the springhouse to get him his whiskey
when the blade laid open his leg.

To the Displeased Husband

After jacking off in Houston, I think of you—
your gasoline rage, the heart you tax and tax,
the steady roar of the bomber’s talk you wipe
your wife’s mouth with, Ellen whom I almost
might have loved that night you’ll never let go,
wondering if the way she arches her legs around
you, if how she trembles and pulls away, if how
it was today, after walking in the rain, is yours.
And I don’t know how the dead man feels, parked,
while the driver of the hearse takes an hour
to stop and see his girl, if two people inside
rubbing against each other would bother him,
rude as the world can be, the ghost derricks
near Galveston pumping the last old ferns away.