Two Poems by Jeff Streeby



Along the North Platte

Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition. –Michel de Montaigne

The Prairie Traveler. From Kanesville to Fort Kearney then up the Platte, then along the North Platte and across the fords, then along the Sweetwater. From there to South Pass City. From there to Fort Bridger. There, a decision—Oregon, California, or Salt Lake. Last wagons west—1917.

All this occurs to me as I open the trunk to look for the jack and discover the spare is flat, too.

Clear skies. First hot day of the year. On the horizon, Chimney Rock.

Between me and the timber,
Dames Rockets– 
a ditch rich with lavender.

Beyond those cottonwoods, more slow brown braids of the river glittering.


Custodes Caelestes

Every Angel is terror. -Rainer Maria Rilke

Autumn sky–
in the abandoned orchard,
rattle of a yellowhammer

No corn stubble now, just shallow water, cattails and reeds. No bean rows clipped close to the ground by the combine, just velvet leaf, pinkweed, nettles. All the bridges gone and those miles and miles of ditch-dikes and gravel roads melting away into the marsh. No house now, no barns, no hog sheds– these dying apple trees the last trace of the farm.

Wolf Creek iced over—
frost on the muskrat lodge,
wind in the brittle cane.

In October of 1966, Dad and I hunted here with a Green Beret on leave from Viet Nam. We took our limits— birds and small game. It was a good day for us all.

First snowfall—
hobblebush, maidenbrush, elderberry

Less than a month later, after a firefight in the Delta, the soldier was med-evac’d carrying his ninth battle wound. Dad told me he died just before Christmas on a hospital ship on station somewhere in the South China Sea. He was twenty-six.

Left in a broken
fence corner— junk T-posts,
a snarl of  rusty wire.

Nothing lasts. I get it. Things are the way they are and you get used to them—disappointments, too– and everything is OK for a while. Then a little at a time the foreground changes, then the middle distance, then the background.

Winter grasses—
sudden racket of ringnecks
startled into flight.

I think, really, I only hope to realize some small personal connection to whatever world’s to come, some one traceable link to permanence. I think we all must want something like that, want our own identifiable effect downrange, want some legacy of ours to arc far into the future like a stray tracer. More often than not, we get less. We can’t get the shot off even with a second chance. We turn into the wrecks of ourselves almost in the blink of an eye. After a while, memories of us fade away altogether or turn into nothing more than curious traditions, myths, quaint family anecdotes handed down, nothing more than our little hoard of unexplainable curios and trinkets commemorating nobody-knows-what, nothing more than the unspoken syllables of our names inked on leaves of inherited Bibles. We’ve all watched it happen. We will soon be, all of us, those unknown faces that look out of every dead grandmother’s girlhood scrapbook.  

New snow–
between tangles of deadfall,
a busy fretwork of fresh tracks.

It looks to me like we might have to settle for less than we were taught to expect. It looks like there is to be only a kind of second-hand immortality for us, for us only fragmentary salvations, maybe a few qualified, provisional resurrections. We have come along at the wrong time. No divine host will sing us through the gates.

Ice-covered raspberry canes—
more rafters and joists
for my brown study.

Our own astral attendants are an ad hoc reserve company— a sober flock with common interests. Like angels, they are eternally concerned and curious. Like angels, they are predictable, they are trustworthy, they are alert to our every changing circumstance, they are patient with us. Like angels, they never get it wrong. Not quite like angels, they are brutally pragmatic and they keep watch over us out of an inflexible self-interest.

Caught off guard—
a fat trophy buck bounding away,
his white scut flagging.

Once we notice them, we can appreciate their austere graces. We can see how their broad wings hook the wind and card like wire teeth the sky’s heaped cumuli. We can see the eyes sharp with instinct that blink down at us; see the curved jaws (polished horn barbed for scission) that yearn toward fierce communion; see the strong claws poised prayer-like that clench against black-fledged breasts aching to receive us. These solemn paracletes, at last they welcome all of us who are so fat with tender virtues. This is the slow gloriole that wheels above us; these, our dark guardians who will redeem us piecemeal.

Oh, Halleluiah.

Jeff Streeby‘s poetry has appeared in Ginosko, Southwest American Literature, Los Angeles Review, Rattle, Haibun Today, Contemporary Haibun Online, and many others.