after oats they lie down J.T. Ledbetter

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When Good Poems Arrive in the Mail


You can’t support every poetry journal you admire, and you can’t purchase every book by every aspiring, talented poet you admire, true. But just as true? You can’t sit on the sidelines and support neither.

One of the journals I support is Beloit Poetry Journal out of Maine. When one of your subscriptions arrives in the mailbox, it is good news — gold lying among the muck called bills to pay. And when you find a poem you admire tucked inside its pages, you read it and reread it. You feel like looking up the poet and writing down his or her books to perhaps explore further.

This was the case when I read this little mood piece that had deeper meaning, especially in the last stanza with that wild plum orchard and high corn, with those simple but somehow essential farm bodies “wanting to hear how it is with him now.” See if you like it, too:


after oats they lie down
by J. T. Ledbetter

when las light falls out of the sycamores
into the horse tank work horses plunge their soft noses
into the cold water their backs steaming in the snow

after oats they lie down in straw kicking their legs in their dreams
their eyes white as shadows running beside them

the man waits for the tea kettle pluming on the stove
upstairs his wife combs out her long grey hair and lies down

he cups the hot tea inside his coat and goes to the barn to help the mother
birth the colt then lies down in the bloody stall
watching her nibble at the sack her lips pulled away from her teeth

later he sits in the kitchen with some cold meat and dips a piece of bread in his tea
he sits very still because the blood on his clothes is hard
he does not know his wife has died nor will he know what to do
he will sit beside her until morning then call a neighbor
and wonder if he should turn off  something

he will go to the barn to throw down some hay and listen to the pigeons
thrumming against the tin roof
and when shadows move from Turley’s Woods toward the farm
he knows they wait to press their farm bodies against him
wanting to hear how it is with him now
he thinks he could go in if he walks through the wild plum orchard
if he crosses the old bridge into the high corn

Beloit Poetry Journal, Winter 2018 issue


All I can say of Turley’s Woods (whose shadows move a bit like Birnam Wood) is “whose woods they are, I think I know.”

We all do.