crossing shoal creek :: j. t. ledbetter

The letter said you died on your tractor
crossing Shoal Creek.
There were no pictures to help the memories fading
like mists off the bottoms that last day on the farm
when I watched you milk the cows,
their sweet breath filling the dark barn as the rain
that wasn’t expected sluiced through the rain gutters.
I waited for you to speak the loud familiar words
about the weather, the failed crops—
I would have talked then, too loud, stroking the Holstein
moving against her stanchion—
but there was only the rain on the tin roof,
and the steady swish-swish of milk into the bright bucket
as I walked past you, so close we could have touched.

beauty is always a surprise :: j. t. ledbetter

The video was supposed to be Beautiful Kansas,
but turned out to be “The Volvulus Colon”
with diagrams of innards with names
I associated with islands or the middle names
of Presidents. No cows looking over a fence,
small tractors in their eyes, or peonies hanging
in their strings beside a ruined porch.

I can only hope the person planning an operation
takes some comfort in fields of black-eyed susans
on winds blowing up from Texas, with maybe
old photos of a thin woman standing in the yard,
watching a tornado forming over Missouri as I watch
bloody hands lift and set aside coiled tubes to show
the camera the tangled bit that must come out.
Beauty is always a surprise.

A woman’s name is on the package with my address—so
I won’t send the video back until I get my Kansas,
or a phone call asking if the woman standing on
the porch is my wife, and I’ll ask if she’s ever seen
Kansas in May. It may take awhile. I’ll watch the mails
while she waits for the phone to ring, not wanting to
presume, or say how it is alone as the leaves fall.