J.T. Ledbetter

Crossing Shoal Creek


The letter said you died on your tractor

crossing Shoal Creek.

There were no pictures to help the memories fading

like mists off the bottoms that last day on the farm

when I watched you milk the cows,

their sweet breath filling the dark barn as the rain

that wasn’t expected sluiced through the rain gutters.

I waited for you to speak the loud familiar words

about the weather, the failed crops—

I would have talked then, too loud, stroking the Holstein

moving against her stanchion—

but there was only the rain on the tin roof,

and the steady swish-swish of milk into the bright bucket

as I walked past you, so close we could have touched.

from Underlyling Premises

fancy that

for Jess

I'm thirteen now so good-by training bra

tonight I'm going to a party

"wear your new pinafore" says her mother—

no she says I will wear dark stuff under my eyes

and dress wicked to look appropriately sluttish . . .

her mother looks over at her husband

looking absently out the window

hoping for a tornado or . . .

"what" her mother says? "we didn't raise you to look


and you're not going out with that purple and black

under your eyes and where did you find that short skirt?

I never bought it. 

she looks at her husband who thinks hopes he sees

a snowstorm coming or maybe a man coming up their walk

with a big package . . . something . . .

he will not look at his daughter standing there like a scarecrow

or witch or . . . he is afraid to think what she looks like

or what she is or will become

her mother has moved the same doily

five times as she thinks of the right words


"you are not going out like that"

was what she said

but there was not much heat in it

"what would people say?"

no heat there either—

she looks out the same window hoping she will see the storm

coming too or the mail man or maybe her boyfriend in the 8th grade,

something, anything to keep her from facing this smallish female

wearing rags and war paint with a skirt so small that . . . well

that small . . .

but the window has turned into a huge mirror showing her daughter

standing in the shadow of trees the moon has arranged


now fast-forward to tomorrow or maybe later that night

or whenever your own history and memory tells you

or reminds you of how you handled the situation:


"Samantha I know you think we're horrid and don't understand, but . . ."

the snowstorm and mailman and former  boyfriend arrived

at the same time as the tears and stomps and screeches

as Samantha runs up the stairs four at a time—


now slow-forward to morning

when coffee or tea and little cakes with her

favorite icing are on the table and her in her jams

with her "yuvey bankee" draped over her thin shoulders

the house is quiet

the dog has been put out and brought in

the cat is on the fridge twitching her tail

eyes narrowed to slits as the dog stares at her

with evil intent—

Samantha is not mollified but she is mute

reading the funnies

the mother does not ask if she feels better

the father hopes for peace in our time


there is nothing more to add here

you either understand this diorama

and the night before or you don't

chances are good that you do and have

nothing to help other parents or daughters

life is often like that

appropriately sluttish and dark

a fleeting skin of terror over a young beauty . . .

with a "yuvey bankee" and a little muffin

with icing

accept it if you can and if you can't stand it or dread it

just wash the blanket and ice the muffins

and enjoy the day: maybe whisper to your wife:

"It looks like it's clearing up . . ."

"Well . . . fancy that"

J.T. Ledbetter has published poetry in Prairie Schooner, Poetry, The Sewanee Review, Poet Lore, Tar River Poetry, and others. Recent collections include Underlyling Premises (Lewis Clark Press, 2010) and Old and Lost Rivers (Lost Horse Press, 2012).



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