Song for the Soft-Spoken

by Ryland Bowman

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.

RYLAND BOWMAN’s poems appeared most recently in Jelly Bucket, and he has work forthcoming in The Greensboro Review. A recipient of the 2009 NC Arts Council Grant, he lives in Greensboro, NC.