Splinters

Poems grow out of me like porcupine quills,
a protective layer between me and the world.

They are reverse splinters,
stabbing up through my skin like springtime saplings
bursting from the seeds of my thoughts—
but it hurts to dig them out
or cut them down
and work them into
the fence surrounding my life
(and I’m not even sure I remember
what I was walling in or walling out).
I have to find the right places to put them,
somewhere they can protect or grow,
and hopefully get under someone else’s skin.
They itch like a sprouting beard.
They grow like grass, like weeds, like thorns.

I am a farmer who planted a field and then let it go fallow.
There are weeds in the furrows as tall as the wheat,
and cattle have gotten in through the unfinished fence.
The tractor has sat idle on the lawn for so long
one wheel is flat, with plants spilling through the spokes;
there are flecks of rust on the red engine cover.
Underneath is a patch of dry dirt stained black with oil.
I opened the hood once to see what it needed.
A frightened bird startled me as it fled,
leaving its blind, chirping chicks behind.
There was a network of mice nests
with little pieces of egg shells scattered inside them
and the headless fossil of a mouse on the engine block.
I closed the compartment and walked to the edge of the field.
I flicked a grasshopper from a golden stalk
and saw that I was too late to save it.

I thought about burning,
about moving,
about changing professions.
But the hoarse whisper of the drying stalks haunted me.

Today I walked right past the moldering tractor
and into the field itself, ignoring the whine of the crickets
the dripping of water,
the scratch of the nettle
and listened to the rustle of the leaves
and the rattle of the grain.

I knelt and clutched a handful of dark earth.
It smelled like fresh rain
and left a dark spot on the knee of my pants.
I wrapped my fingers around a solitary weed and plucked it out,
leaving a wet wound of fertile ground behind—
though the weed told me something of how dear its life was
with a few lines of poetry it placed into my uncalloused palm.
I plucked them out one at a time
and placed them on the fence
and listened.

And then I pulled another weed.

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