Three Poems

by Richard Luftig

  • Poetry
decorative header image from Volume IV Issue 1 · Fall 2017

Compromise County, Illinois

The people who first came here settled
on a life, on a land so flat that one
might get lost on a turn-around
plat of a single farm. Then, first

crops: corn, winter wheat, beans
that decorated acreage like dots
in a Seurat painting. Later,
saplings of windbreak trees,

spruce, sycamore, the occasional
cottonwood, twisted and gnarled
like the trunks of the old, German
men who planted them, watched

them grow even as they shrunk
and shriveled. Men who still
arose at dawn to work this land
long after their best time was done.

Now, one-hundred, two-hundred
years and acres later, the grief
of failed crops, land, luck, love,
stick like the gumbo of April

mud, their grandsons of grandsons
have left, selling what they could,
giving away the rest of whatever
wasn’t foreclosed or signed away.

And they, lifted away like topsoil
in an endless, prairie wind,
moving up, moving out
to cities where they never want

it to grow cold, grow wet.
Where they would live their lives
without even a single, hard freeze
if they could, leaving behind

the stubborn ghosts
of those first farmers who
took their best chances, now
making do with sandstone

tombstones, the names, dates,
lives worn away. Now guarded
hard by what’s left of withered
trees, their weary branches fighting

January winds, so strong they blow
sheets of freezing snow sideways,
trying hard not to give in again
to what they might have been.

Hazelwood Cemetery, Grinnell, Iowa. Photo by Emily Mamrak

Hazelwood Cemetery, Grinnell, Iowa. Photo by Emily Mamrak

Plains Cemetery

The only mourners left;
These summer storms,
Those winter moons.

Winds that sand
Away the names
On tombstones

To flatness as if
No one ever lived
Here to farm these fields.

But someday,
When even the dead
Are not looking,

The centurion pines
Standing guard
Nearby will split,

Splinter, collapse,
From lightening
Or ice-laden limbs,

Just like everything else
In these forgotten plains,
Years before their time.

“Bridge,” Oil on canvas, 12” x 60", by Jane Pronko, 1987

“Bridge,” Oil on canvas, 12” x 60", by Jane Pronko, 1987

Along the Ohio

This river with so many meanders
and oxbows that at times it seems
like it has no idea which way
to flow. And the towns

that run along; confused,
without direction as if
folks believe that if
the damn water would just

straighten itself out, run
pure and plumb, folks
might see what they need
to save the place, keep

things ahead of the curve.
But here, at Coropolis, Crown City,
Maysville and Martin’s Ferry,
the deserted, boarded-up stores

show their rears to the river
and the banks seem to have lost
any interest in watching water pass
downstream. The only occupants

left are bald tires,
rusting oil drums,
broken quart bottles of High Life
and the occasional sofa

dumped when people thought
no one looking. Even the houses
seem to have given up
the ghost: back yards

scattered with driftwood
and weeds, save for one
with an ornament of a fat,
old, Dutch woman bending

over her tulips, bloomers
mooning the water and a family
of plastic ducks wondering
when it will be their turn to leave. Rootstalk leaf-bug icon marking the end of the article's text.

About Poet Richard Luftig
Portrait image of poet Richard Luftig.
Photo courtesy of Richard Luftig
Richard Luftig is a former professor of educational psychology and special education at Miami University in Ohio now residing in California. He is a recipient of the Cincinnati Post-Corbett Foundation Award for Literature. His poems have appeared in numerous literary journals in the U.S. internationally in Canada, Australia, Europe, and Asia. Two of his poems recently appeared in Realms of the Mothers: the First Decade of Dos Madres Press.