Poetry March 2008

Constitutional

(O.G., 1872–1962)

It’s a wonder they didn’t all of them die of the
      sun those days. Remember
Ole’s forehead and the backs of his hands?
The fair-haired sons of Norway in their bright
      Wisconsin fields, the map

of blessed second chances writ in tasseled
      corn. (The damage writ
in melanin.) I never could stand it, my father
would say, by which he meant the morning
      constitutional: the dose

of electric fencing Ole found was just the
      cure for frozen joints.
But joints be damned, the rest of it my father
loved, he’d cast about for a portion I
      could manage, maybe

Linda could fetch the cows. Poor man. He little
      thought how quickly
the race declines. Ourselves and our posterity.
It all alarmed me: dung slicks, culvert, swollen
      teats, the single narrow

wire above the barbed ones, commotion
      of flies on the rim
of the pail. We’re better at living on paper,
some of us, better at blessings already
      secured. The fence?

It was for animals. And insulated, quaintly,
       with a species of porcelain
knob. That part, at least, I had the wit
to find benign, like the basket of straw-flecked
      eggs. A touch of homely

caution in the liable-to-turn-on-us world.
      Ordain and establish.
And breakable too. An old man at his battery-
charged devotions, double-fisted on
      the six-volt fence. In order

to form. A measure of guesswork, a measure
      
of faithful refraining-from-
harm, let us honor the virtues of form.
And all the dead in company, if only
       not to shame them.

Presented by

Linda Gregerson's most recent collection of poems is Magenetic North, a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. She teaches at the University of Michigan.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In