Will Justice Drake

The only hay baler was me and Euel
in the barn catching what our father threw
from the truck bed, hearing him shout, “You’ll
have to hold your breath if it bothers you.”
My lungs burned in the dust either way,
a hundred pounds of hay through the loft,
cheeks puffed tight with a breath I’d saved
to keep from collapsing in asthmatic cough.
I’d squint before tossing the hay in a heap,
and the golden dust would billow in the slats of light.
Each mote moved its way. I breathed.
They moved together. I breathed the light.
If I called out now, I would crow
like a rooster, like the bronze bird in the floor
of the car in town. The man always showed
up with the fowl in the front, his greens and gourds
in the back. The bird would cluck and squat on the news.
Its litter splotched out words, and its bright,
amber eye cocked upward and true
like a scope looking past the sun at the night.
Four years later, I lay in France,
cold, disarming mines, pressed to the ground
like a creature scratching food from the sand.
A mortar fell. Ventre à terre. No one around
except the girl turning round and round
on her doorstep. Her dress flared out
like a parasol twirled around
in the rain. The child beneath it wondered how
to keep us dry in the squall, became a mother
calling to come home, to look in the cupboard
for the pressure plates stacked like saucers,
and something—I’ve forgotten—about being discovered.
Back home, up on the water tower
near that abbey of German monks,
someone kept shooting rivets at an hour
when we were all sleeping. So I jumped
out of bed to find him in the dark,
but instead I heard flapping wings,
the woodpecker pecking at the metal bark
of the antenna, the tap-tap perhaps her flinging
a coded message into space, like a prayer.
Or maybe she was receiving one for me.
After a while, it suited me to hear
the rhythm, a kind of peace
                  like a volley of mortars,
                                    like a cough.