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6 0 6

Circa 1909 [Gold Leaf God]

“Every time you sigh, a flower dies.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“You wanna be a flower killer? Go right on ahead. Keep poutin’. I’m tellin’ ya, darlin, that wind blown outta your mouth gotta blow somewheres. And them flowers? Them flowers are delicate things, ya know.”

She tucked a dandelion behind her ear. Scrunched her brow.

“Would I kill people named after flowers too?”

“I reckon you’re catchin’ on, Eileen. Might be hope’a makin’ ya into a ‘spectful woman after all.” He winked.

He was joking of course, but Eileen knew to take such things seriously. Especially coming from a preacher-man who was sitting next to you shucking corn. It was serious business, corn-shucking, or so she thought. Her pa talked it up quite a bit—she was too young to work out in the fields, and she disliked being stuck home with pastor Chapman. Eileen was Catholic, see, and she knew all about the Holy Wars. Started wondering if they’d ever come to America. Started wondering if she was already in a war.

A gust of wind almost escaped her larynx, but her cells convalesced and—fighting milk-tooth and door-nail—she swallowed it back down. She wasn’t a murderer. She didn’t want to be at war.

Daisy Upchurch, the county schoolteacher, died that night.

Later, at the funeral she told Liam Keppler that she killed things just by breathing wrong. He gave her a flower. Then they went down to the basement of the funeral parlor and picked the flower apart.

Eileen cried because she thought she’d killed the nice woman who’d taught her to read.

Liam cried because he knew he’d never get to go to school again. His pa’d already been trying to get him to Sei ein Mann! and drop out in order to help with the farm.

The flower was dead. A lot of things were dead.

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5 0 5

Keppler Farm 1928 [Excerpt from Gold Leaf God]

“Boy—it’s all that sin you been bathin’ in that’s makin’ your mouth taste somthin’ awful.”

Liam paused his brushing and turned. With what appeared to be great concentration, he studied the old oak floorboards, weathered from years of tread & trod. His eyes then moved to the area rug, a colorful thing his grandparents—or rather grandfather—had purchased from the gypsies on one of their excursions to the city.

As a child he’d stood in awe of it. At night he’d sit on those oak floorboards— the life had not yet been pegged out of them— and listen to the radio shows with his grandparents. He’d never really catch the scratchy words of the man in the box, though, because he’d be too busy picking his own stories out of that rug.

Until he was six he’d been too afraid to step on it for fear his pale skin would drain the color from the vibrant threads just as the color had faded from the barn out back. He’d tried to put the color back in the barn with some left over tomatoes where the paint’d peeled off, but his grandpa’d told him that the world just didn’t turn that way:

“Son, once the color ‘s gone outta somethin’— Hell, once the light ‘s gone outta somethin’— there ain’t no gettin’ it back.”

The boy did not understand this at the time. The light went out every night. During the farm season it went out so early that dinner wouldn’t even be ready before the world went and turned off it’s light. When there wasn’t too much work to be had he’d sneak up to the loft in the big barn where the ricks were kept and open the loft doors as wide as he could manage. At dawn he’d open the doors to the east, at dusk those in the west. This was how he came to have a sense of direction. So the boy would sit and watch God paint the sky—thought that God was a better craftsman than whoever’d made the colorful rug—he would sit and he would think about his mother, wondering if she ever saw God paint the same stretch of sky as he had. Then the boy would thank the Man on the Moon at night—as his house rose and the stars stretched from their sleep—for reminding God to wake the sun up that day.

The rug once felt out of place—perhaps that was the source of its beauty—but years had since passed and the vibrant colors had faded, making it seem as if this rug had always belonged on these weathered floorboards.

He resumed brushing and his eyes drifted to the rectangular table, about shin height, atop the rug. It was made of mahogany, by his grandfather—skilfully crafted for the man’s new bride and their soon-to-be-born child, who would grow to become Liam’s uncle Mark. He had carved a map of the world into the tabletop and somehow managed to procure a sheet of glass—as he was as resourceful as he was sentimental—so it could function as a respectable piece of furniture. He’d said, “Darling, Ah’d give you the world if Ah could, but Ah can’t ‘n this is the next best thing Ah could come up with.”

His grandmother always smiled when she told that story. Says she kissed him then and there. Other people were around and everything.

“Ah tell you boy, Ah got some sideways glances at church ‘fore a good month-‘n-a-half after that.”

And then she’d laugh because with age people and things lose their hold over the beholder. Memories are the greatest treasure—but of course no one remembers that until they get old enough to forget.

Liam almost gave a half smile. His eyes moved once more, this time to the worn couch behind the table, a lace duvet thrown over each arm and the back at dead center. It was then that he—the boy who hadn’t been a boy for some time now, in his own mind at least—turned his gaze to his grandmother. She was, as expected, sitting in her chair turned slightly away from the rest of the room and toward the bay windows. It was from this woman that Liam had gleaned his penchant for observation. She held a book in her hand, eyes searching his face—she had probably stayed up all night reading, the woman was uncanny like that. He met her gaze after a second, hesitating because he knew there was no hiding what was in his eyes. She continued:

“Now don’ you go’n act like the good Lord didn’t give me two good eyes and two good cents to rub together or ta put together what Ah been hearin’. That’s the third time you gone ‘n done brushed those teeth a’yours, boy. Ah’m tellin’ ya child, it’s all that sin makin’ your mouth taste somthin’ awful,” she paused to give him a half smile, ”‘an toothpaste ain’t cheap these days.”

4
8 0 8

Pike County, Indiana '98

a wide flat dusty road becomes a
soup of hydrogen, carbon
as engines are left to rot

there are

truths scratched in the dirt.
empty crossings on corners speak of
transportation for the dead
old and broken down

this is

the burden of time
to see vultures wait for rust
as ghosts carve the valley 

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2 0 2

Steuben County, Indiana '83

ghosts of engine blood, engine fire
rows of roots huddle in brown drawn

fields. the grain sieved from straw,
no hunger is forestalled--each dawn

is made of dust. scatter their skulls, these
bones of old industry & fold skeleton tractors

beneath a crested sun, a rusting barn roof.
smoke sings of death by drought, a burn ban

issued in a land of ashes,
winged seeds & a tar black feather ball.

nothing begat barren land. 

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12 0 12

it came & went--
time did--those that
remained after its
passing
            lived death
            to pay for
            life

empty
           hands
           hold
           heavy
  stones
meant for
throwing.
follow suit
             children,
             clutch
poison moons
--as wishes--
                   scattering seeds
                   growing weeds
dandelion sun
  only stains
sea green sea graves
--a grass ground ocean--

pigeon, mock the mocking-
                  bird
pigeon--man, woman & child
                 alike
each has a place -- fruitless --

fail to find that which cannot
                be found
ask the mayapples
                  devil's garden
                  overgrown
ask the mayapples
                  they know not
                  to make truth
                  known.