Another Farm Poem

Anyone who has ever visited my parents' farm has seen the gray buildings sitting beyond the small orchard. They were originally bunkhouses and could be put on the railroad tracks and moved from one logging camp to another. My grandfather bought them and moved them onto the farm, probably during the Great Depression, as I've been told he borrowed $600 at that time and set up a chickenhouse. When I was little, the buildings stood in a long row with a raised porch between them; the closest one to the house was a shop; the other was the chickenhouse. Years ago Dad pushed the chickenhouse sideways and turned it into an open shed. This picture is of the backside. Anyway, I mention these outbuildings in the following poem and can't imagine that anyone would understand their significance to me without some explanation.


I've written too many poems
that begin with pouring a cup of coffee.
But I pour a cup anyway
and carry it outside. I sit on the back deck
under my mother's kitchen window
contemplating the pear tree, the clothesline,
the fish pond. I sit staring at the gate
that opens to fields I know by heart.
I grew up here, and if a poet
can be a citizen of any country --
this is mine. I've read somewhere
that when you lose anything your heart
has to make room for it.
Emily Dickinson said this, too,
more or less: "The brain is wider
than the sky / for the brain the sky contains."
I think she meant "the mind" or maybe "the soul."
Maybe she meant "the heart." It seems
in any case that my father
has now moved into my heart
and while I sit here, drinking my coffee
and watching a breeze play in the orchard trees,
I imagine him setting up house there,
like Whosoever Will in the old Sunday School lesson.
Next to go will be this farm with its plum
and pear and apple trees, the unweeded flowerbeds,
the ancient boxcars -- once bunkhouses,
then shop and chickenhouse --
resting atilt on their foundations, abandoned.
My heart unfolds like the American flag
at Dad's graveside service. It shakes out
and folds in again, stars and stripes, night sky
and fog, all the trees of my childhood --
vine maple, cedar, holly, douglas fir.
I take it all in. I drain the last of my coffee
and sit holding the empty cup, holding
this empty feeling that must be vastness,
this sense of how big my heart will have to be.


  1. Better than ever - Every time I read a poem which begins with a cup of coffee I'll know it's you - the picture is somewhat like I envisioned it but with more windows - the poem shows the farm, in a few perfectly chosen words, some kind of genius! -

  2. The other family story about these buildings is that when one of my older aunts married (she was 17, I think) she and her husband for a short time lived in the shop. As a kid, I was fascinated with the whole idea of that. Where did they put the bed? There was a pot-bellied wood stove, and outside the front door a trough for cooling milk cans (they kept a few dairy cows then). I suppose, however, that they ate with the family in the house. Have I ever given you a copy of my poetry book -- The Coyotes and My Mom? If I haven't I'll send you one.

  3. I agree, some kind of genius.

    This poem has windows in it, "that can contain the sky."


  4. No, I have never seen your book The Coyotes and My Mom. Thank you. I look forward to getting it.

  5. "My heart unfolds like..." made my heart unfold. I love this. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Cerise -- there must be some synchronicity going on as I've been watching your blog, too.


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