poem index

Midwestern Litany

by Anne Barngrover

Wouldn’t give my heart to the railroad.
Wouldn’t give my heart to an old dog.
Not for rusted lace or seed pearls.
Not for bone china or barely dented silver.
Not even this old house, the walls flaking off like hardened sugar.
Wouldn’t give my heart to hog corn.
Not for the promise of dyed flowers.
Wouldn’t give it to the bridge over the river.
And no, not for penicillin.
Not for coffee hot in Styrofoam or the smell of burning leaves.
Not for dark meat.
Not for seagulls in a soybean field stubbled by winter.
(Why were they there? So far from salt and tide?)
Not for baked apples in nutmeg and butter.
Not in this land exhausted of color.
Not for beer the color of dirt, for dirt the color of blood.
Wouldn’t give my heart to the ghosts of deer
or for violence in Illinois—I saw that doe threw her body
in front of an eighteen wheeler—she died in a pinwheel
explosion—she was alive and leaping
and then she wasn’t—she didn’t even look.
And it’s not easy to hide in a flattened land
with hearts beating and stopping on every billboard.