Rod Jellema


As I wait for the computer screen
to come on, a single light comes in
from far behind it, a pinpoint growing

larger, larger, until it snaps into place
as an old train engine filling the screen.
Now steam and station lights swirl to suggest
a school-days photo, faded to yellowish brown,
of Herky—runt in rags and got-no-pa Herky,
who died back then and none of us cared. 

He is crouched and staring as always
at the big black straining engine
that twice each day pulled the cars
with shiny windows through our town
to Chicago.  The engine shakes
and huffs, catching its breath,

but Herky has vanished into the steam
so I run and run for the train's departure,
catch the handrail and swing myself
aboard, riding the clicks alone through
the night, leaving town, leaving town
to live out Herky's life and my own.


Hillybilly streams
come harping on and on
toward the sea, but
here slow down
their twang,

hold deep in the mouth
their stiller flow,
waiting in this hush
of salt hay and marsh
to slip away
whenever the moon
says now.
Dusk and rising tide.
Guitar chords
from a far-off radio.                   
Through hanging mist
I can just make out
in rental boat 8
a tall figure alone.
Oars resting, crossed,
he leans with the drift
and I squint to watch
with tightening fists,
nails biting my palms,
I strain into the loosening dark
that takes him out.


The boy I try to keep
awake and on watch inside me
used to wonder,
as I walked home some evenings,
where my shadow went
when it went.
Now I know.  Night
herds my shadow into
the dark stalls of my body,
darkness pushed into
the whole sleeping shape of me,
my trillion locked cells.
Often I can feel it stir and
steal away.  When I jolt myself
awake, refilling the absence
of shadow with black coffee, I know
it's in the morning streets,  quietly
waiting for me up ahead.


What we lose that's gone—a photo,
the year we missed spending in Spain,
just a minute for goodbyes with a son
who died, the many chances to prove
the love that survives its own failures—
we can get on without them.
Their absence is never the point.
Loss itself is not an absence,
its very presence is what stirs us:
the son remembered, the daughters
who couldn't make it home to their births,
the opening phrase of a poem or of music
meant to say love that can't resolve Its theme.
Sometimes I catch, against green leaves
in our ancient silver maple, three seconds
of bunting flashing his indigo shape
of early morning praise that's still
almost lost and trying to break through.

Distributed by TruVal  Dairy Products, Inc.
486 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI  40237
(milk carton, Holland, Michigan)
When I grew up in Holland in the thirties
the names of dairies conjured up
black-and-white cows under cool green shade
with freshets of water nearby: names like Elm Valley,
Lakeside, Maple Grove, Cold Spring, Beaver Dam. 
At our house, Cloverleaf sang of tasty greens
in the cud they chewed, drowsy, swelling with milk.
A few dairy names were local I. D. cards, assuring us
that no worldly cows from elsewhere were horning in: 
Holland Creamery, Tulip City. We even knew
which of our covenant heifers were calmed by peaceful views
while grazing:  Hillcrest, Riverview, Golden Vista. Such words
 when herded together, neatly lettered on trucks and bottles,
 buttered the way through what parents called the Depression.

Of the fifteen dairies for our town of fifteen thousand,                        
only two resisted romance and took workaday names—
Consumers.  Square Deal. Plain as crates and adding machines.
I like to think that they were the first to go.
One dairy—stuck on the very edge of town, being pressed
on all sides by new houses, street lights, cement—
flagged itself anyway rural as the mysterious Rivulet Hurst.

Our cows must have been scrubbed with Dutch cleanser.                             
They all had names and papers, and smiled, we imagined,
while yielding milk to their godlike farmers—our milkmen.
And all winter long, with little stand-up trucks and wire baskets,
the farmers stole in before daylight to the town's back doors or stoops
with glass pints and quarts of snow white milk, each bottle
wearing under its printed cap a rich collar of light gold cream.

In spring, we kids knew the very day the cows were sprung                     
from their stale winter barns and sour fodder, set free at last
to munch in the meadows. How? By the tang of new onion grass
In our glasses of milk.  We talked of it at school. I liked to imagine
hundreds of cows stampeding from winter barns
and onto the singing meadows, dancing, udders flying, snorting,
snuffling up the sweet-smoke joy of born-again grass,

while—springy as hop-scotch and baseball mitts—the dawn sunlight
lit up again the proud little trucks with their painted names, so nice to say—
Cloverleaf, Maple Grove. . . . ah, the fifteenth:  Meadowbrook. . . .

Rod Jellema's last book of poems, A Slender Grace, won the Towson University Prize for Literature in 2006.  Some recent work is published or forthcoming in Poet Lore, Image, and  Potomac Review. His Incarnality: The Collected Poems is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2009.



Current Issue
Contributors' Notes

Email this poem Printer friendly page

A CLOSER LOOK: Dan Masterson

Brienne Katherine Adams

John Allman

Bruce Bennett

P.D. Bresnahan

Norma Chapman

Joanne Rocky Delaplaine

Carol Frith

Bridget Gage-Dixon

Sarah Estes Graham

John Grey

Gabe Heilig

Oritsegbemi Emmanuel Jakpa

Rod Jellema

Jennifer Juneau

Claire Keyes

Jacqueline Lapidus

Hiram Larew

Barbara F. Lefcowitz

Donal Mahoney

Laura Manuelidis

Nancy Meneely

Lisa Mullenneaux

Sherry O'Keefe

Scott Owens

Patric Pepper

Allan Peterson

Oliver Rice

Craig van Rooyen

Maggie Schwed

Janice D. Soderling

Paul Stevens

Jeanine Stevens

Garland Strother

Naomi Thiers

Ernie Wormwood

Bill Wunder















Last Updated: Feb 22, 2020 - 12:30:13 PM

Copyright 2005 - 2020 Cook Communication.