Poems

Samples of Ken’s Work:

 

Blue River

She calls me to secluded pools
along quiet shores
beneath canopies of White Oak
and Red Cedar.

My pace slows –
thoughts diminish,
sounds hush
in this cloistered place.

I sit in shadows smoking
a soft cigar,
the full moon peaking
above the ridge.

Beyond dense timber,
purling water
and tree frogs
abide a humble campfire.

I have no need tonight
for noise,
no desire
for that other life.

Only primal sounds matter:
these ancient rituals
merging fire and water,
earth and sky.

from The Way of the Wind
(Village Books Press, 2008)

 

 

Dad’s Sled

He built it with used two by fours
scrap metal for runners.
He always saved spare parts

and cast off materail.
We might use that someday
he would say – and sure enough,

one day when ice and snow came,
the Bailey Hill beckoned.
I stood beside him

in the cold basement as he framed
a sled from a design
tucked away in his memory.

I helped by holding the wood
in place as he nailed it tight,
then tacked on the runners.

We rode that sled everyday
the cold lasted, screaming with delight
flying downhill in home-made ecstasy.

But today I remember the making
of the sled. It is in building
that his genius lay, and how I marvel

at his ability to make happiness
out of things left over, used
and otherwise abandoned.

from Spare Parts
(Mongrel Empire Press, 2010)

 

Confluence of the Norfork

Maybe what I love most
about rivers is how
they bend together
toward some mystic
whole we imagine.

Confluence is a lovely
word, a word that implies
sharing, getting along,
making new space
from disparate parts.

No atom, no action exists
alone. Water joins
water joins tree and
plant, sand and soil,
grass and flower.

Even the Mayfly
that emerges, but for
a desolate moment
only to die, plays
his part to perfection.

from The River White: A Confluence of
Brush & Quill (Mongrel Empire Press, 2011)

Yellow Cottonwoods

There’s heartache in these lines
cracking through once hard ground
crumbling to course dust.

Sadness drifts here
beneath these yellow Cottonwoods
where old men sit
in distorted circles – a parlor
for the ornery and rejected –
where a can of beer
accompanies a well-worn story
told with fading bravado,
fear swallowed in slow gulps.

These grains of river sand
dry in wind, sifting
through time, piled around toes
of shuffling boots, legs
dangling off a tailgate
or sitting awry in a chair
whose fabric is stretched
past the point of brittle.

from Like Father, Like Son

Testimony

She sells bait.
She makes biscuits.
She chats up fishermen.
She remembers Odessa
where she danced guilty
before her broken heart
expecting Jesus to return
any moment.

That was the 70’s. She still
expects him – the signs
are everywhere – look
what’s goin on down there in Syria.
It’s all in the bible.

What do you think about all that?

Her cloudy, sweet eyes,
her wrinkled nose
waits for me to answer.

I love her biscuits.
I want to fish.
I tell her she’s got it figured out
but feel bad the way I say it.

She knows I’m lost
but she has borne witness
to her blessed hope.

I leave her trailer.
I hope the fish are biting.
I hope Jesus comes again.
I hope she can forgive herself
for those days in Odessa.

As for me, I think she
must have been beautiful dancing
with a cowboy turned oilman
who left her to survive
selling minnows, making biscuits
for sinners like me.

It only takes a little leaven
to leaven the whole lump.

For her, I will stand quietly
while she testifies.
She has been rescued – sort of.
Like a beaten pup, some creatures
never fully recover. They trust
only what they can touch –
biscuit dough, or minnows
panicked in a tank.

She places the net into the water,
cuts a swath. Some
are destined to be caught. Some
escape this time. Some
move from tank to bucket to hook.
I would believe too if only
I could escape the net.

Maybe I should hang up my rod,
drive to Odessa, lay hands
on some drunk roughneck, or maybe
I should let her pray for me, or maybe
I should leave her alone.

Until I can make up my mind
there is a lake full of fish –
and biscuits are something
like the bread of life – especially
when she covers them
with black raspberry jam.

from Bring an Extry Mule
Purple Flag Press, 2017