"How to testify? In the marketplace / for my voice was everything was meaningless. / Knee-deep in the mud with my tongue out." - Taylor Johnson, from "Ecclesiastes"
Joe Betz is an Associate Professor of English at Ivy Tech and produces electronic music under the name Knuckled Fruit. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His first chapbook, SOOT, will be published in 2022 with Finishing Line Press.
Joe reads "Soot," "Portage, IN," and "Red-Winged Blackbird."
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Joe, what poems have you brought for us today?
CANNON IN THE BEAN FIELD
Pole barn tilted like a giant
yet sad metal bird,
rusting tools daydream
over oil-soaked wood
and crows stare through
a deer’s cheek in the weeds
like prophetesses of doom
to ruin the pill bug’s heart. I’m leaning
on a wing demarcating the burn line
on my bicep, smoothing the deltoid’s point
when I hear cannon fire, remember the myth
of a boy whose head became a carp’s.
Harvested fields are the true devil’s playground.
Have you seen a black snake’s dew-slick head
launch fangs into a mouse’s meat? Once
my mother told me she stepped on a kitten
she’d chased into the woods,
how its guts were blue coils,
putting them back in the mouth
would keep it from hell, like how
as little as belief might fix a sink’s leak,
intuit God’s will, uncork the spirit’s thousand mysteries
with the correct hammer. When she tells this story
robins have returned to mess the old leaves
and dust-melt lines ditches, cerulean stew,
bone-chipped foam-edged. When she tells this story
the light above the kitchen table swings
like bats between mosquitoes and blue veins,
could be a lesser demon on electric lettuce.
The house is silent.
The field is literally booming.
Soon uncle will call to say
come see the hole it’s made.
HAVING BEEN CALLED DIRT
the water’s instant when still
to stagnant, when mosquito larvae pops
into the toad’s pink throat beneath sky
and super moon
an ember erupts the leaf pile
smoke as if a gun’s barrel as if
escape the crack spreading air
stitching o’s in boom
my father shot meth in the bathroom
brushed teeth with his left hand
the moment hand becomes fist as if
knuckles might matter as if
knowledge of a wall’s stud as if
barn swallows cut the air
drunk with deer blood
i’m spinning circles in the graveyard
lost as last fall’s breath kissing oaks
rolling birch bark tender my mind’s fire
in a dog star cold as a sip of pond water
as if dirt was anything but
as if dirt was anything more
coyotes in the ribs of coyotes
FARMER SUICIDE WHEREIN A PROCLAMATION ON PARENTING ENTERS
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that male farmers in 17 states took their lives at a rate two times higher than the general population in 2012 and 1.5 times higher in 2015. - The Guardian
The farmer puts
the shotgun in
No one knows
if he let the barrel
sit on teeth or folded
lip. He'd already taken
the right boot
off, and it's
an arthritic bone's
task to save
Have you listened
to the stomach
its fate of cold
coo. More likely you
to the soft sound
of a curtain’s
disintegration, the brown
bag of a mysterious
to buckle. I’ve seen
a cow’s brain
fried golden brown,
between pretzel buns.
I’ve retraced inches
of my daughter’s spine
unbelieving the genome’s
confidence to keep her crawling
through the arch of my body.
I’ve tossed her
in the air
high enough to curse
God for laughter,
how she desires
to go farther,
as I desire
to become tremor-
less of my ripped
ribs. How I’d
break them again
if she said, for me.
How I’d break you
if she said, they did.
For the violence
inherent in a parent’s hand
unfurls like a seed
when gifted combinations
of sunlight, water, and time.
O how it feeds
the conjured face. O how it feeds.
O how I cannot stop the morning.
GRATITUDE WITH MIXED RELIGIOUS METAPHORS
Consider mental anchors, focused drop
in the moment, cranked back in a blue hour.
My daughter calling as I walked to water
the peach tree, new leaves cupped in drought, to wait,
that she had something to tell me, that it’s
important and to wait, dad, wait––I love
you. Her smile then, mischievous, coy as carp
nipping sour soybeans, as rabbits side-
eyeing raspberries, the hovering Cooper’s hawk.
Her run back to the house, flat-footed, new
as those cupped leaves turned me into mustard seed
slipping through the black eye of a needle.
You've been listening to the poetry of Joe Betz on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.