J.T. Ledbetter

Summer Tomatoes


At the River View Home they gave him a room

with another man who snored and told lies about the war

and would not let my father read by his little light at night,

but during the big storm, when all the lights were out in

the dining room, the man cried and wheeled himself in



The last room they gave him before he died

had a small balcony where he could have a tomato plant,

so we put one in a pot and watched him bend over it,

holding it up, smelling the pungent leaves.

“One tomato, can you believe that? On the farm we

had hundreds. Have you ever tasted summer tomatoes?”


When we drove back to Colorado to bury him I picked up

his favorite blue work shirt and held it to my face,

smelling the sharp smell of tomato vines, remembering

the farm where he showed me how to work the ground

and when to plant and water as we kicked our shovels

into the hard Illinois ground. “Wait until you taste summer

tomatoes,” he said.



two boys find a horse

while gigging fish in Turley’s Marsh


it was lying in lead-white quick lime

head and neck were there

the rest was gone


sockets where eyes had been

flared nostrils like it was holding its breath


you can find it in the field

of yellow-headed daisies

my mom calls them


you’ll smell ripe plums



Farm Dreams


He wants to tell her he dreamed she was milking the cow,

and how the seasons seemed to move around her, colors

and weathers swirling in the barn as she leaned her head

against the cow’s warm stomach, and then she was upstairs

in bed, and in his dream he touched her body beneath

the cold sheets but she slept long and deep and would not wake

to his hands.


She watches him drink his hot tea from the saucer and wants

to tell him she dreamed he plowed the garden, blindfolded,

the reins tying him to the plow, and when she ran to him the horse

bolted, turning the plow over and how he flailed blindly at the horse,

cursing and crying, crawling in the damp furrows.


At night they sit in the yellow glow of light in the kitchen

where words might come, but words do not come so they pull on

heavy boots, their fingers touching crossing laces, their clothes billowing

out as they cross the porch to the barn, noticing the old horse leaning

against the silo, the mother cat carrying her kittens into the corn crib,

the lone duck in the horse tank and the moon overflowing the bird bath.


They notice these things, but the farm and poor crops and bad weather

have given them no words for what they mean, anymore than they have

for dreams or the coming snow or the cold night that surrounds them

in their bed where their sock feet touch, their breath a blue mist in the cold

room. They notice such things, and mean to talk about them someday, but

they wonder if they would still be able to clear the upper pasture or cap the

old well in Turley’s Woods or hold the cow's head while the other  pulls

the dead calf out. And which words could they use after the flood carries

off the new pigs and Rev. Nobs takes his life in the belfry, neighbors

asking them if they knew that woman from Galena.


But these questions do not last as the first snow swirls about them

as they dig up rotten potatoes, and listen to the wind coming through

the attic window he meant to fix, or why she cried in her apron

after dropping her mother’s dish,—watching him watch her in the dark

kitchen where he waits for his dinner. What words then?  Or now?



when you say good-by


when you say good-by

the eye having seen enough of the world


leaving the sun balanced

on the horizon

the familiar face turning away


the hand

having touched bone and nerve

recoils as the needle unstitches the skin

levering the splinter out


and the heart

no louder than the thrush

hiding in the fox’s shadow


as the candle goes out

a wisp of smoke upon the water





was not expected but neither was the baby or the tax man

somehow all three came at once

and the weather man said more coming


down the block a woman pulls a kid’s wagon

her life covered by a tarp taken off a dead horse

she found in a pasture

ground hogs root for sprigs of anything

moose spraddle their legs to get at the salt-lick


cars slide and crash people curse and sing carols

children will wake up to snow on their window sill

their parents woke earlier to finish the tree they cut down

after they burned the first one for heat


over the line in Idaho two men hunt along the Coeur d’Alene river

their camies red with blood and whiskey

dogs slide on the ice chewing on what may have been

a red-tailed fox in happier times


someone driving in the Palouse stops for a look at his tires

they will find him next month


snow falls lightly in footsteps that go from house to barn

filling them like cream the man watches it come down

from the barn where he milks the one cow he had from his father

when he married Sue Notts after she got back from a country

he cannot find on a map her medals are in her sock drawer


the Monroe Street Bridge in Spokane

is covered with snow cars are spinning crossways

avoiding children on new sleds  while a man with no sleds

watches from a burning barrel his medals still in country


it is night

the snow is still falling

becoming flowers in a milk-white vase

J.T. Ledbetter has published poems in Innisfree, Poetry, New York Quarterly, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review, Poet Lore, and others.  His latest collection is Old and Lost Rivers (Lost Horse Press, 2012).



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