Steve Knepper teaches literature and writing at Virginia Military Institute. His poems have appeared in Pembroke Magazine, SLANT, The James Dickey Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Floyd County Moonshine, and other journals.

Steve Knepper

Two Poems


A farmer knows the point where prayer And blasphemy are one — My God, My God — The shepherd-psalmist's cry of dereliction. A windstorm flattens out his corn, a chainsaw Bites into his firstborn's leg, the well Goes dry in August's drought. The night my father breathes such words his lips Are beaded up, his cotton shirt soaked through, His arm a swollen mass of blood and slime From failed attempts to push, to turn, to pinch The breeched calf's legs, a stubborn inch's task. Frustration mounts as minutes turn to hours Without the necessary shift, the cow No longer bellowing. Her head hangs low. Our neighbor puts his shoulder in her side To keep her upright in the narrow stall. The pulling chains lie useless on the floor. I dab a towel across my father's face And keep the water hot, add iodine To crudely sterilize. The slug of brown Uncoils its tendrils in the steaming pail. Despite myself I think about the day He had to shoot a spraddled cow to ease Her misery. She was a heavy milker, A thousand dollar cow. My mother cried. My father's eyes were wild as he returned The rifle to the rack, went back to work. Damn it all. He sinks against the blocks. My God, My God. He pumps his arm, exhales The words, then stumbles up again to try To wrench a miracle into the world.

Dropped out of school last week and disappeared — No sign of him till Chester called me up And said he'd seen him huffing gas behind The dollar store in that abandoned lot. When I got there he had the kind of look A fox might get that's chewed its leg all night But can't get loose before the trapper comes. I said I needed him to fix some fence. He told me to take a pitchfork ride To hell and stay awhile. Then we fought. He tried to hit me with a chunk of asphalt But only scraped my forehead up a bit. I socked him in the gut a time or two To take away his wind and settle him. You know when I was young I came in drunk One night and thought my daddy hadn't heard. He was a strict teetotaler, a Baptist Who didn't even like to give a cow Off her feed a funnel dose of beer. He had a bottle waiting at the table When I came slumping down the stairs next morning. He made me drink it all and then we bailed A dozen loads of hay in August heat. Still can’t hardly stand to taste the stuff. That wouldn't cure what's got a grip on him. He'd smoked and snorted all he could afford Before he started on the gasoline — Might not have stopped till he had fried his brains. When we were riding home that night he said He'd take me soon. I'm getting old and slow. What then? I said I hoped to God he'd kill me. He laughed and said that wishes can come true.

Glass: A Journal of Poetry is published monthly by Glass Poetry Press.
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