Published on Academy of American Poets (

[My ancestors are empty words]

no pencil

on gelatine paper

no intricate live edge

of the Missouri

no breaking sod

to mine it for wheat

no magnate's gold to

drive our bodies into the fields

no wheat sliding east down

easements that pierce the treaty lands

no ghost of Dorothy

sits up in my body

no craft cocktail:

John Brown's Dugout              14 bucks             

no wet grass curls

above and beneath us

no tractorsfulls of

whiskey empties

no empty words

silting our throats up

no empty bowl

of cut-up peaches

no wombs lit

up with atrazine

no place but

that's just hearsay


Copyright © 2020 by Kerry Carnahan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“As a kid I spent eternities at the feet of folk who would often gather without saying much. I keep what talk there was close, like an old uncle might have by his chair an antique taped-up cigar box containing photos, discharge papers, a cowrie— stuff we can’t quite throw out. ‘[My ancestors are empty words]’ is a serial poem and this part began as a shoot sent out while I was working on another part, a prose poem whose first line is ‘What is Kansas?’ It might help a reader to hold that question in mind while reading it.”
Kerry Carnahan


Kerry Carnahan

Kerry Carnahan is an environmentalist pursuing doctoral work in English at the University of Connecticut. She is from Kansas.

Date Published: 2020-10-18

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