2 Poems–Joan Colby

Plato Center

Old creameries. Barns caving.
Ghost herds. Blood sausage.
Clabber. Sweet butter. The classic
Names they strove to propel
Prosperity. The depot disgorging
The corpulently vested. At the P.O.
Thumbs in overall straps
Political talk, bad jokes, how early
Can the fields be worked this year.

Five small tombstones—the Hall children
Gone in some forgotten epidemic.
The tornado came through here
In 1920-something. Burr oaks,
Hickories, the woodlot holds
Abandoned cornpickers, rusted clumps
Of machinery no one living knows.

Cellars built of boulders, ancient beams
Holding it all up. Crazed windows
Of the wellhouse. Lilacs a woman loved
And bridal wreath, honeysuckle,
Grapevines and raspberry canes.

A colt named Plato Center Sam
So huge at birth we had to heave
Him up until he learned
Calf-fashion to hoist himself rump-first
And duck to nurse.

Gentle and unlucky as the rest
Of the goners here. Old men
On porches watching burdock
And loosestrife overtake their fields,
The subdivisions creep like saboteurs
Annexing all that’s left.

Sword Swallower

Tell them the blades are dull.
Your candor leaves its mark.
Now they’ll believe anything.
They’ll believe no matter what you stick
Down that throat of yours won’t hurt.

Don’t tell them how long it took
To learn how not to choke.
The gag reflex, a kind of physical conscience,
Gone at last. No steel can
Make you flinch, even the serrated sword
That helps the crowd blanch.

You kneel as if to receive
A sacrament and let the blade
Coast through your gullet,
Easy does it, like a ghost
You arise, the hilt of death
Jutting from your mouth.

Now slip it out and smile.
They gasp as if you drove
Devils out of hogs.
Three at once. You show
The knives. You take a bow
With blades still in place
Bending stiffly from the
Waist, it’s all in knowing how.
The delicate angles.

JOAN COLBY has been the editor of Illinois Racing News (a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation) for over 25 years.  The author of seven poetry collections, she has also published her work in Poetry, Portland Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and Western Humanities Review, among others.


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