Church for the Disliked

On the turnpike, the smell of a heaven 
made out of old barn wood 
from Okmulgee. 

Handles and rungs 
cut from a fat farmer’s leather belt. 

In the eastern counties, 
coffins raced uphill, moving on hay bales 
and billiard balls.
Charon paid for everyone at the I-44 tollbooth.

On the North Canadian, 
comforts of a widower’s loneliness 
floated on pontoons. 
Time balanced on a fish egg.

In the city, violins violated jackhammers. 
At the refuge, night is the church for the disliked.  

I go to baptize the plants,
horns, and rain. 
I have passed through 
many different Oklahoma statehoods. 

Related Poems

The Book of Lamenting

begins on edges of highways

where the sun raises its swollen belly,
grasses outgrow themselves,
vineyards wither their nerves.

The sun cracks the dashboard,
slithers between rows of eucalyptus, juniper,
rolls along the wheels of trucks.

Past crows that caw, pod atop railroad crossings,
the engine cranks its monotonous pulse, distracts me
from posted signs, the yellow snake that guides me along.

This is where I find reasons to question the living,

my father’s face held
in his hands, his brows etched
in the stained glass of the missions,

my mother’s sacrifice dwelling
in deserted turnpikes, her eyes
gazing from overgrown orchards.

Trees disappear. Dried brush crumbles
into camel’s fur. In the distance, no horizon,
but tumbleweed large as sheep.

This is where I am when the world has closed its ears,

alongside rusted tractors, abandoned fruit stands,
roaming for hours, nothing but barbed-wire fences,
nothing but the smells of harvest and gasoline.

The road matters more than the earth,
more than those on the road, it turns
into a spine, ladder of teeth and bone.

In the passenger seat, my grandmother’s ghost
holds a palm full of seeds, scatters them
skyward for the crows to eat.

All of it behind us now. She tells me
not to tangle my nerves, not to stop
the creed of the open road—

nothing that runs can stay the same.

The Summer in Oklahoma

In the morning the horses appeared
as I looked down from the attic window,
the red horse leading the bay,
and the pale horse running behind.
For a whole day they were ours:
my sisters and I rode them over the fields.
All this was long ago, the morning,
the blossoming of the light,
its fervor withheld no longer,
before the shadows appeared
in their strange syncopations,
before death appeared in the world
to trudge the weary trajectory of the stairs
and stand looking down over the fields.
Last night I dreamed of the horses again.
They gallop in a bright ring,
one after another, none losing its place,
always the same distance apart.
Now the rider pulls on her dark reins
and for a moment the horses move
to the perfection of that music
which is unheard, though hoped for
in every place. Now I remember
the gaze of noon, transparent,
shedding its far white light
over the shrouded fields, the rectangles of green,
over the spreading river between.
The possibility of grace
had never seemed so near, the sunflowers
lifting their enormous heads
by the farmer’s house, while the birds,
grosbeak, towhee, assemble, seeking their food:
seeds, plucked out in the morning, fall to earth
in the daylight field and rise in the field of night.

United

When sleepless, it’s helpful to meditate on mottoes of the states.
South Carolina, “While I breathe I hope.”  Perhaps this could be
the new flag on the empty flagpole.
Or “I Direct” from Maine—why?
Because Maine gets the first sunrise?  How bossy, Maine!
Kansas, “To the Stars through Difficulties”—
clackety wagon wheels, long, long land
and the droning press of heat—cool stars, relief.
In Arkansas, “The People Rule”—lucky you.
Idaho, “Let It Be Perpetual”—now this is strange.
Idaho, what is your “it”?
Who chose these lines?
How many contenders?
What would my motto be tonight, in tangled sheets?
Texas—“Friendship”—now boasts the Open Carry law.
Wisconsin, where my mother’s parents are buried,
chose “Forward.”
New Mexico, “It Grows As It Goes”—now this is scary.
Two dangling its. This does not represent that glorious place.
West Virginia, “Mountaineers Are Always Free”—really?
Washington, you’re wise.
What could be better than “By and By”?
Oklahoma must be tired—“Labor Conquers all Things.”
Oklahoma, get together with Nevada, who chose only
“Industry” as motto. I think of Nevada as a playground
or mostly empty. How wrong we are about one another.
For Alaska to pick “North to the Future”
seems odd. Where else are they going?