Word Poetry

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Sample Poems by Steve Tompkins


Poem for My Sister, Who Gave Birth to Triplets on the Day that Our Grandmother Died


The nest
the finches have built,
half-hidden

in the descending boughs
of the dying juniper bush--
an intricate weave

of dried grass leaves
and gray hairs cradling
three freckled, cream-colored eggs.


Clay County Pastoral


The fields overflowing
with manure and mud,
three months work washed away
by twelve days rain.

In the drainage ditch off Highway 9,
three old men in coveralls
are pulling on the hind legs
of a spotted spring-calf

buried up to its jowls
in muck, their sweat and spit
splashing into the ditch,
mixing with the mud and manure

swallowing the calf. 
The old men yank madly,
their laboring breath and the calf's
a monosyllable left hanging in the air

like a mumbled prayer. 
They continue to pull
until the calf bleats loudly,
unexpectedly, a leg torn loose

from its slender socket.
It stiffens.  The dark eyes roll white,
close. The old men let go,
stand up straight,

and glaring at the calf's leg
pointing awkwardly upward,
push its head
down deep in the muck.



Learning to Fly in Miller's Field


Taken away by the feeling
of those silver-tasseled seed stems
sliding across my outstretched arms
and slipping through my fingers
like warm ribbons of rain,
I closed my eyes and began to fly
through Miller's field of Indian grass.

But the Mackey brothers,
breathing hard and rushing up behind,
brought me back down to earth    
when they caught me
five strides from the fence
and a hundred yards from home
with a rock to the back of my head.

I could have fought back.
Perhaps I should have fought back.
Instead, when my father berated me
and demanded to know why
I let them beat me and did nothing
to stop it, I stood up and told him
that none of that really mattered.
I had risen up to face them
with my arms opened wide, I said,
because I knew how to fly.


Burlapped

He made it look easy--

the way he bent 
down to pick them       
one at a time, up                      
from the straw
where they lay sleeping
with their mother,
the way he stroked her neck
as he placed them
into the burlap bag                        
he brought to the barn.

It was easy--

the way he stood,  
turned away from her,
and strolled to the pond
in the south pasture
carrying that bag of kittens, 
the way he laid it on a pile
of fresh-cut alfalfa
to set the large stone inside
and tied its mouth shut
with a shiny strand of bailing wire
pulled from his back pocket

--to leave and never come back.