Devotions

By Bruce Snider Bruce Snider
1

Nothing passes, Lord, but what you allow.
Mornings the milky sap on my knuckles
burns. Last night the piglets fought then suckled
in the barn. Still no word. Our one cow
grazes but won’t come in. The pamphlets say:
Patience is required. I say, let’s try again
but John blames the state, the neighbors, the way
we wrote our bios, filling out the forms.
Across the road our neighbor starts his truck
while God, feather by feather, downs a wren —
swollen, its black eyes shiny, small dark tongue.
In the drainpipe, something slithers wet and stuck.
A race runner? A ground skink shedding skin?
Lizards, John tells me, can’t bear live young.

2

John tells me: lizards can’t bear live young.
Another of   God’s mysteries: hard rain
muddying the corn. The kind woman
at the agency said, it takes longer for certain
types of couples. Trash smoke rises like prayer,
the neighbor burning insulation from his shed.
He shows his son how to bind fence where
a crippled chicken pecks at scattered feed.
They talk, lean close. Rusted toys fill
the side yard: old trucks, a bicycle tire,
a punctured red bucket now a sieve.
In the back acre, ram mounts ewe, the whole
field coupling late spring. When   John walks by,
I kiss him. Most days we keep to ourselves.

3

I kiss him most days. We keep to ourselves
by the roadside. Two greasy boxes; a sign:
FREE. We take the runt, her warm body beside
us in the truck, milk-breathed and unwormed.
I imagine her shuddering out of the womb, wet
ground covered with slime. Strange to think
of   her moving inside some animal’s gut,
the source of each day’s warm alien kick.
At home John makes her a bed from old
field shirts, a soap and vinegar bath for fleas
while in my lap she chews my hand and shivers.
I brush her fuzzy scruff, the too-large head.
She nips at my finger that holds a piece of cheese,
her wet tongue asking what a man can mother.

4

Even I doubt how a man can mother
when I see the neighbor shout, chuck a stone
at his son. When I shoot him a look, he turns:
mind your own business. The hot sun withers
the peonies John planted on the side of the hill,
dirt gone hard with the sudden change of weather.
Sweating, I mow the lawn, pick up shell
casings in the yard, the crow’s strict feathers.
All day I want to break something, stick
a fork in the fan blades to feel the pinch.
Coming home late again from the shop,
John carries two rabbits slung from a hook.
He cleans, for hours, his rifle on the porch.
Above us: the moon rises. An easy shot.

5

Above us the sun rises, bright and hot,
steaming the back pond where black flies stall.
In the pasture, our neighbor castrates his bulls
using a spreading tool with red rubber slats.
The restless cattle graze an unshorn meadow.
On TV: a baby in Toledo in a locked car.
The mother went to work and forgot, windows
up in summer’s heat. The camera blurs
over the lot as a medic lifts the blanketed heap
from the back seat in the crew’s full view.
Gawkers circle. The mother weeps. Watching,
I can peaches, letting the pale fruit darken.
Beyond the window, bulls still graze the field.
They feed. The bloodless sacks swing, blacken.

6

Steer feed. The bloodless sacks hang, blackened.
On the radio: Haggard’s I’d rather be gone.
John tends to ordinary things: replaces the drain-
pipe in the kitchen sink, sharpens knives again.
I watch the neighbor teach his son to paint
the tool shed all afternoon. Soon, they wrestle,
throw a ball, the boy laughing into his father’s chest.
In the paper I read the births and deaths,
hear a sudden hammering from behind,
John cursing the warped floorboards, pushing hard
the back door, which still won’t budge an inch.
Again today no miracles at hand,
just, in the field, wrens who stab at milkweed pods,
a nuthatch bargaining from its split branch.

7

A nuthatch bargains from its split branch.
Our neighbor stops by, complains our fence
breaks his field. It must be moved eight inches.
The puppy — Annie, we call her — pushes
her nose in everything, the front yard, the garden,
finds, across the road, the neighbor’s trash —
drags stripped wire, eggshells that harden
like the bones she buries off   his porch.
I want to say we are consoled by her,
but each day John jumps when he hears the phone.
We walk over and over down the worn
path to the empty mailbox: Maybe soon.
Some nights we make love. We sleep arm to arm.
We wake to our neighbor yelling at his son.

8

Again we wake, our neighbor yelling at his son,
poor kid standing by the porch. Tracking mud,
he backs from the shouting, his father’s raised fist.
Later I will see him sulking near our feed shed,
knotting an old piece of garden hose, kicking dust.
I’ll smile, ask if   he’s OK. But right now
I listen to John’s quiet breathing beside me.
Faith, they say, is Abraham asked to slaughter
his boy on a mountaintop. But sometimes
it’s just the peeling shed in gray weather,
the leather harness softened, then gone rough.
All day today the back pond will teem with carp.
The clover will brighten. For now we lie together
into late morning. Some days, it is enough.

Source: Poetry (March 2013).

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2013
 Bruce  Snider

Biography

Poet Bruce Snider grew up in rural Indiana and attended Indiana University as an undergraduate. He earned an MFA in poetry and playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a James A. Michener Fellow. Snider’s collections, which draw on his midwestern upbringing, include The Year We Studied Women (2003), winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, and Paradise, Indiana (2012), recipient of the Lena-Miles Wever . . .

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Poems by Bruce Snider

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Marriage & Companionship, Parenthood, Love, Heartache & Loss, Romantic Love, Activities, Jobs & Working, Relationships, Home Life

Poetic Terms Series/Sequence, Sonnet

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