All year long, all life long,

these farmers holler protests

into the cruel headwind,

‘til one day they come

entirely untethered

from the fickle cornearth,

march up out of the fields  

as if the prophecy

of some oldtime spiritual

has finally come to pass,

leaving dogs, houses, lands,

and a scrapyard scattering

of green and yellow shells

to bake and crumble in the sun. 


They shed the wisdoms

of a thousand martyred generations 

easily, like flannel overshirts,

like empty tobacco pouches,  

and grow glad and suddenly silent

to everything named the world.

From high on riverbluffs they

are new monumental pharaohs,

staring over the rippled water one way, 

a sea of doomed crops the other, 

their composition now  

entirely mineral. 

They have grown as numb

as crusty dirtclods,

as immutable as slabs

of cold gray stone.


And yet no one notices. No one

says a single word until

the cornstalks have turned

the color of stretched caramel.

And even then the good

townsfolk stand for hours,

arguing amid swirling snowflakes,

consulting again and again

their squalling gadgetry,   

unable to decide for certain

if they ought continue waiting,

or if the hour of the harvest

might have already come, passed.

Originally from the flatlands of central Illinois, Justin Hamm now lives near Twain territory in Missouri. He is the author of the chapbooks Illinois, My Apologies (RockSaw Press, 2011). The  Everyday Parade/Alone With Turntable, Old Records (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2013). His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Nimrod, New York Quarterly, Cream City Review, Spoon  River Poetry Review, Sugar House Review, and a host of other publications. Recent work was also selected for the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Award from the St. Louis Poetry Center.

There is a series of poems I’ve written that all involve farmers in one way or another, and occasionally I discover I’ve been writing another poem that belongs to that series without really knowing it at first. Here, I had a couple of phrases I wanted to use—“fickle cornearth,” “the color of stretched caramel,” “monumental pharaohs,” “squalling gadgetry." I’d been trying to write a lot of grittier Midwestern poems, grounded in realism, and I wanted to let what grew up around these phrases attack from the exact opposite angle. I wanted to mythologize without apology.




Copyright 2009