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Three poems

The Serenade

A cow lies on her side, panting and heaving.

Her tongue slides out uncomfortably.

She wheezes. It won’t be long now.

It is a matter of time and discomfort.

Sometimes, this happens

when no one is around to witness —

the earth begins a lullaby.

Here I come to put her out of her misery.

How many times must I do this?

I can do this chore in my sleep. The rifle is heavy.

I pat her head, talking to her in a slow,

careful, reassuring way. What I say

never eases pain,

but I say it anyway, for both of our sakes.

I praise her for the years of milk, for calves.

How many times must I do this —

this kindness — it pains a heart.

The wolves won’t get her;

I’ll make certain of that.

I pray and sight.

I finish the sentence.

A shot scatters birds for miles —

echoes and rebounds, settles.

I drag the cow using ropes. I am eleven.

The sun is dry with the chorus of locust.

The barrel of the gun is hot, smoking, decisive.

I wish I could walk back in time. I wish

I was in a parallel world. I wish the line

between life and death was longer, more perfect.

I wish suddenness was not a precision drummer.

None of my wishes mean anything.

Dawn still cycles over the fields,

illuminating what I did years ago:

you cannot bury truth.

Now, I write with a fever. The safety is released.

A backfire wakes me up.

Am I revisiting my past on the farm,

or when I worked with wounded in Vietnam?

The world could care less.

But eyes plea: End it.

I step in and out of memory like a movie.

Everywhere, there are moments repeating themselves

and I cannot change the past —

the desperate wish for release from suffering.

After every death, there is an intense coda of silence.

We Contain Pieces Of Light

All bodies contain pieces of light,

mostly amethyst and ember

and skylarks. We just have to release.

We do not need belief

to fulfill these promises

and you don’t need coordinates.

The Way It Was and Still Is

Plowing the land when it was still dark,

light just whispering from far away,

the ground reluctantly parting

like two old lovers,

sleepers throwing hopes

into the cautious wind

not expecting a reply.

I am grunting against the hand plow,

the hard ground still partly frozen

from late frost, not minding at all,

knowing this is how the world works.

Fingers grip on to what is real,

let go

what is not,

and at ten, I knew the difference.

There’s no beating the system;

it’s rigged.

Survival depends on getting ahead

of the hardness,

the way the back bends.

Plowing the old way,

you need to start when it is dark.

There just isn’t enough time

or money

or pity anymore; never was,

never will be in this harsh light


like a foreclosure note.


Martin Willitts Jr is an editor for Comstock Review, judge for the NY State Fair Poetry Contest, and winner of the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize, 2018. He has over 20 chapbooks including the winner of the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, The Wire Fence Holding Back the World (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 11 full-length collections including forthcoming full-lengths includes The Uncertain Lover (Dos Madres Press, 2018), and Home Coming Celebration (FutureCycle Press, 2019).

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