Come spring, if we wanted it, there was work
at any one of those farms scattered like lawn darts
beyond the blacktop, sprawling mansions
where wind and rain splayed off paint
and flannelled millionaires used hay balers—
as squat and sexless a machine as was ever invented—
to compress hay into eighty-pound cubes
they’d hire local boys to stack in their barn lofts
where, despite promises from Penthouse,
there were no buxom daughters waiting.
Just crickets and loose straw so thick
you’d see it every time you blew your nose
for a whole week afterwards. Still,
it meant a tax-free wad of cash at day’s end
and nothing to spend it on but pizza and beer. So
when Tony and Dustin needed a third pair
of hands, I volunteered even though
birth defects gave me the ankles of an old man,
a visible trait mercifully concealed
by a recent trend in baggy jeans. I’d already
begun my addiction to weightlifting,
I believed in my arms even if I’d stopped
believing in God, so I thought I could
hold my own as those bales defied gravity,
wobbling up the conveyer belt, through a gaping
loft door into that broad, musty room
where we broke our backs all afternoon
and I swayed like a barrel on stilts.
Doo-rags tied to our beardless faces,
sweating until we wheezed, yelling at each
other to keep going, we imagined
we were Rocky Balboa training for revenge
against some foul, doped up Russian
or maybe just witnesses and those bales
sliding methodically up the ramp were Jews
like we’d seen in history class, marching
all blank and grainy to their deaths—which would
make us the Nazis, but we were sixteen
and not all that good at thinking out
our metaphors, let alone grasping the concept
of cultural sensitivity. So for hours
we built a grimy fortress out of hay bales,
each one ribboned in twine. By the time
it was done, we had the farm boy’s
equivalent of a thousand yard stare
plus the cold certainty we’d been screwed.
Though probably the farmer told us
right away what he was willing to offer—
to hell with what his neighbors were paying
just a few miles down the road.
And we, just three wannabe-tough kids
who had never fought a day in their lives,
who saw words as a kind of flinching,
shrugged into our gloves and marched
toward that ladder, our muscles watered,
and tried not to scream when the machine
roared to life and all the animals fled.
If you’re anything like me,
you imagine your work being read
over wine or whiskey next to a window
smeared with autumn rain,
some grizzled but soft-hearted editor
tapping a pencil as the Jazz spins
slow alchemy on a vintage turntable.
So maybe it will disappoint you
to learn about the big bag of Cheetos
leaning against my drab sofa,
the empty bottles of domestic beer
piled in the trash. I’m not
even wearing a $1,000 bathrobe
or pausing sometimes to appreciate
a Van Gogh and scratch a one-
eyed sheepdog behind the ears
while ugly but wise children practice
their Latin, though I have to say,
the Tibetan singing bowl
I got at a flea market is admirably
performing its job of doing nothing.
From the Husband of a Dead Confessional Poet
Now, they read your psalms of suicide and dissect the details:
the intellectual impossibility of believing in the God
at whose breast you suckled. The drunk abusive father
stroking your absence like a calf until one day, you closed up
so that all above existed, at best, in frozen beauty. The oven,
the pills, the wrists in ruddy fog. They say your kind
cannot help but go tearing at the starry tabard between
heaven and hell, sewing them together, ripping them apart
so often it’s merciful in the end to shrug it off—to leap free
as though life were a stillborn, waiting to be recycled.
But I saw you on the porch in your sundress, unwashed
hair smelling faintly, almost sweetly, of yesterday’s oatmeal.
Ode to Four Old Men Eating Ice Cream at an All-Nite Diner
Four men in mussed overalls walk in,
laggard, smiling like they own the place.
The waitress laughs—back again?—
swinging her tray of drunk kids’ dishes
and meager tips. The old men nod
at my wife and take a seat behind us.
Outside these painted windows,
stars tongue the windshields of pickups,
ditches echoing the brass sadness
of crickets. Meanwhile in here,
these old men wave off menus in favor
of the usual: coffee and ice cream.
All week they have waited until
sundown to plow, letting that Iowa heat
blunt itself beyond the hills. Then
they meet here to swap fables and spoon
ice cream drizzled with hot fudge,
caramel, freshly thawed strawberries.
Men unexpectedly at that place
in life where they could tie cherries
without blushing. Each gets his turn
at small talk, diplomatic as the housewives
who may be waiting at home,
under headstones shaded by cedars.
But for now, they talk weed killer,
last Friday’s poker game, the brilliance
of their grandchildren—spoons
stirring, hands swaying like dancers
in some burlesque house, charming the air
with their fingernails’ soily tincture.
About the Writer
Michael Meyerhofer’s third book, Damnatio Memoriae, won the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest. His Previous books are Blue Collar Eulogies (Steel Toe Books) and Leaving Iowa (winner of the Liam Rector First Book Award). He has also published five chapbooks and is the Poetry Editor of Atticus Review. For more information, visit troublewithhammers.com.