‘He’d come home from a war ready to use his fists
on anyone who looked at him cross-eyed
and I wanted to be anywhere but where I was
so he bought a car with his severance pay
hitched up a trailer and we drove clear across the country
pawning possessions along the way.
We slept in fields and prairies next to migrant workers
with their kids sleeping in rows on the ground
and O, those stars at night, glittering above in one
big orgasm of light ‘nothing like the stars back home’
and the prairie birds
waking us up to the sweetest sound, like a chorus of angels.
That trailer-pulling car took us over the Cascades, where we swore
we heard the sounds of wagons, pots and pans banging against
each other, the bellow of oxen
until there before us lay the lush green Willamette Valley
and that’s where we ran out of gas and luck ten miles short of Corvallis
so we sold everything and walked the rest of the way, rented
a room by the railroad tracks close to the river
where the cougars screamed at night and if you never heard a cougar
scream, well, that’s something you carry with you the rest of your days
but we didn’t know that then, we only knew we’d reached home
and when we got hungry, he took his gun in the woods and shot a deer
or tried for grouse, fast as the bullets he dodged in the war
and that was the beginning.
Barbara Southard is a visual artist and writer living in Miller Place, New York. She’s worked as a printmaker, free-lance artist, factory worker, teacher, and currently serves as Poet Laureate of Suffolk County, New York.