Jeff Hardin

Down at the Feed Store

     
   

you’ll get your money’s worth in conversation
if you stand around, though if you do, be warned
you might be flattened by a pallet mover
in some glad hurry to be moving something. 
Political talk mostly, oh a lot of fuss
about how something or another’s run,
the rampant waste of taxes down some crooked drain.
Most likely you will wish you wore a cap
so well as these who do, except you don’t—
you look foolish, awkward, out of sorts.
Who’s buying this stuff, you think, the cattle guards,
the barbed wire rolls, the countless nuts and bolts.
The same Kentucky fescue bag is propped
to keep the door from swinging shut with wind.
There’s something, you can feel it, going on
inside America, at the core we never get to see,
but that’s a call for someone else to make, not you;
for today the day is yours to do whatever,
so, dang it, you’re wearing a cap pushed back
as though it had a place there all along
atop your silly head, and while the talk ensues
you listen, one of the morning gang for once,
and now and then you cannot help but nod.

     
         
 

Rising Early

for Kathryn Stripling Byer
     
   

I used to think the old
deranged for rising early,
grabbing a hoe to weed tomato plants
or taking a pan down rows
to gather snap beans.

Or out in the outbuilding
rummaging for tools,
a handsaw, post-hole digger,
needle-nose pliers.

My grandmother’d rise
to sift and spread flour, 
add a pinch, as needed,
of baking soda,
a couple spoons of lard.

Years later, by daybreak,
she’d worry a porch swing—
the flights of ordinary sparrows
enough to hold her concentration.

This morning,
from my neighbor’s field,
I hear the pop of barn tin heating up,
a sound so solitary I’m stopped
with how enormous time can be,

how when I hear some distant dove,
familiar as my own breath,
I lean a little closer to this earth;

I try to get here even sooner.

     
           
 

Work Still To Do

     
   

You should have seen me as a boy, leaping
puddles, my legs above the clouds.  Those
were headlines only the grass could read.

There’s fieldwork left to do, though—okra
to cut, snap peas to pick—and that place to inhabit
where corn shucks were tossed to the side.

Main Street is all uphill anymore, full of kudzu and talk
of maple leaves that blew the years away.  The sermons
were lost, too, when the Prodigal Son skipped out again.

September feels like resistance, but October is quietly
giving in.  The radios told us decades ago
to walk across pastures and not to turn back.

In the night, vandals overturned headstones others
placed flowers against.  I wonder tonight what
the innkeeper will say, the wind so cold, no stable in sight.

     
 

You'd Sit on a Porch Like I've Got

     
   

if you had one.  You’d get up early,
before the dog moves, before
the birds begin their pick and rolls,
before admitting to yourself you’re
so absurdly happy it has to be
offensive to those without a porch. 
You’d watch, intently, the tucked-back,
ski-pose wings of the dirt dauber,
the fence posts stepping forward
out of the dusklight.  People without
porches, how do you hear yourself
think?  You spend your days—honestly?—
without counting breaths divided
by the number of starling flights? 
You live without the insurrection
of daily sitting still?  No following
one thought tumbleweeding through
a notebook?  Unreal the kind of
fortitude you must possess.  You
ought to think about some set-aside
time with the world, with all things
small-winged, a sycamore limb
almost not-quite reaching the ground. 
Exhilarating, these finest moments,
thought like forsythia going wild
on a breezy day.  Warble and rococo,
porch board moan, larkspur whisperings,
gladioli glad-handing the wind
with too few onlookers adding their own.

     
 
   
     
 
      return to poetry
 

Jeff Hardin is the author of two chapbooks and two collections of poetry, Fall Sanctuary, recipient of the Nicholas Roerich Prize from Story Line Press, and Notes for a Praise Book, recently published by Jacar Press.  His poems appear in The Southern Review, Southwest Review, Tar River Poetry, Gettysburg Review, The New Republic, Mid-American Review, Southern Poetry Review, Ploughshares, New Orleans Review, and elsewhere.  He lives and teaches in Tennessee.