Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, winner of a 2014 GLCA New Writers Award, and three collections of poetry, including When We Were Birds, winner of the 2017 Oregon Book Award in Poetry. His debut novel, Fall Back Down When I Die, is now available from Little, Brown. Wilkins has published poems, essays, and stories in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Ecotone, The Sun, Orion, and Slate. He lives with his family in western Oregon, where he directs the creative writing program at Linfield College.
After the Farm Sale
fences sag ditches dry willows crowd the quiet
irrigation pump wink their grief-blue
eyes a brief rain muds the river yarrow blooms
wild onion prickly pear lesser sunflower
for the absence of hens the skunk thins
for lack of lambbellies coyotes clack & slaver somewhere
the economies of gadgets & neglect
machine down somewhere a flatbed sits in a lot
a story rots somewhere radio wagejob rage
even as the fields forget a boy divides dust from dust
dikes with a plastic tractor a field of dust
even as waterbirds dive & preen even as they sing
I woke this morning in the old house,
which sat at the far, forsaken edge
of more or less everything, dry light
rivering through uncurtained windows.
Larks in the cottonwoods, sallow barncats
eyeing the larks. The millsaws down Queens Point
working at a high, blue whine. The dust of the road
might wait a dozen years to rise, the ditch's throat
never fill with ditchwater. I wish a wind to touch
the plains and valleys of me, all the old loves
to leave me now and never leave.
Where the River Breaks the Mountain's Back
Scrub trees pock the cliffs.
Tumblestones lean against the wind,
Grass dries down to sunlight,
& glyphs of gone animals
scallop the hot dust—
they step gracefully back
through their own absence. The sky
in any weather is a long time coming,
like gladness. This is a map. Love,
I leave it here for you.