Florence, Kentucky

So what if the old man
on the bus is trying and                              	
failing to remember his dead
mom’s face, as if the past were
not a cartoon tunnel scratched
on a wall?                            	 
He’s still trying,
and when did we forget our
cattle-shoes and feather-parkas,
how we carry with us a lowing
sadness, an extinguished memory
of flight?
Today I’m going to count all the                	
blackbirds between the prison
and the Walmart where, right
now, in its galloping sadness
a bald man who sounds like
a car horn is hector-lecturing
his infant-hushing                           	
girlfriend—as her unhappiness,
radiant as a cleat, sharp as an ice
skate, sprays to a sudden stop.
Right now, at the emergency
crisis center right next to the                       	
gun store, the nurse feels entombed
in hours like a fly in amber
as the waiting room TVs
spin despair’s golden honey—
and I think of the ice I waded out
on as a kid, of how often the world
seems like it’s going to shatter,
but then, miraculously,
mercilessly, does not.

Copyright © 2019 by Adam Scheffler. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem is a composite of various scenes of unhappiness I’ve stumbled across—not all of them having taken place in Florence, though all were in the tri-state area of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. My partner is from that area and I’ve spent my summers there for the last decade. It’s a particularly beautiful and lush area in the summer right near the Ohio river—full of wild growth, big starry skies, fireflies, and copious deer—but it’s also a region full of particularly American forms of ugliness (big box retailers, gun stores, etc.). Once, just as I asked how polluted the river was, a full toilet came cruising down the water like a flotilla preceded by a twenty-foot navel of sludge. In some ways, that’s the feeling behind the poem—that there is beauty in how people go on despite the many degradations visited upon us.”
—Adam Scheffler