The HyperTexts

Don Thackrey

Don Thackrey spent his formative years on farms and ranches of the Nebraska Sandhills before modern conveniences, and much of his verse reflects that experience. He now lives in Dexter, Michigan, where he is retired from the University of Michigan. His verse has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies. His prose includes a book on Emily Dickinson. A volume of his verse is forthcoming from the Dakota Institute Press.

Meditation in the Woods

He walks into the woods to meditate
On Fall and what it presages for him
As Summer's candles flare and immolate
Themselves, then sputter feebly as they dim.

He listens to the whispering of leaves
Rehearsing striking colors in surrender,
Then notes a wheeling hawk that screams and grieves
To mock the season's bold deceits of splendor;

For soon enough the woods, the hawk, and he
Will crowd together in the whited vault
That Fall constructs each year for life's debris.
With rue he ponders how Mankind's first fault

Brought Death into the World, and all our woe . . .
But darkling thrush and dancing daffodil:
Are they to be in thrall to debts we owe,
Must everything that lives endure Fall's chill?

He asked forgiveness of the woods and bird . . .
But if they answered him, we haven't heard.

First published in Trinacria

Spring Rain

The music of the rain at night
Taps out staccato praise of green.
En pointe, new shoots stretch with delight
To music of the rain at night.
Grim winter, gruff old troglodyte,
Dreams of his cave and quits the scene
As music of the rain at night
Taps out staccato praise of green.

First published in The Lyric

The Water Crew

Remember, Sis, our shack beside Plum Creek?
Recall that hand-pump in the fenced-in yard
That’s now, as we are, worn-out, quaint, antique?

But then it stood, with handle poised, on guard
Against the phantoms we spied everywhere.
We thought its life, like ours, was middling hard,

Standing alone on constant duty there
Beside an ample tree that paid no heed
To lowly pumps, so we would give him care

That only children understand things need.
The pump, our bucket, you and I: we each
Had roles to make the water crew succeed.

At first, the S-shaped handle made a screech,
And we joined in with our best piercing screams,
Convinced that we were shrieking water speech.

The lake below our feet, startled from dreams,
Responding to our calls, darkened the tone
Of pumping to a promise of rich streams

Of cold, pure balm, God’s gift to us alone,
We thought. With bucket filled, we each grabbed hold
To fetch King Water to his kitchen throne.

We weren’t surprised when later we were told
That we are mostly water God ensouled.

First published in Blue Unicorn

The Call of Waters

While drowsing by our farm’s small bubbling spring,
I seem to hear its water calling me
To make a pilgrimage to Mother Sea,
The source of all of us, each living thing.

Intrigued, I ease into its trickling stream,
And find myself gentled toward calm Plum Creek,
Then to the Niobrara in a week
Or two—no hurry in this languid dream.

I drift into Big Muddy just ahead
And reach the Mississippi on beyond,
Content to be a floating vagabond,
A paltry drop in this vast watershed.

Rehearsing all the river songs I know,
I swim a slow backstroke to study sky
For signs of rain to help me liquefy
And flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

An outward current tugs me to the sea
Where I hear pulsing, low, enthralling song:
“You’re mostly made of water and belong
Out here, my dearest one—you’re part of me.”

Alarmed that I’m not strapped against a mast
From which I safely might unstop my ears,
I find myself surrendering in tears,
To calls seductive, lovely, peaceful, vast.

Now shocked awake, I tremble in the cold
And marvel how this tiny spring took hold
Of me with tides I scarcely could withstand.
When waters call, Lord, help me cling to land.

First published in Blue Unicorn

Learning to Be an Edgy Poet

I want to learn from journal editors
The art of writing poems that open doors
To publication in those highbrow pages
Where free-verse fever has become contagious.

One helpful editor in guidelines said she
Seeks poems that take risks, are bold, are   . . .   ED-GY,

That dare to        f l a

       a frac   /   tured

                         on all accepted auld lang synes,

That sing off key, that act as arsonist,
And make of creativity a fist
To bust up order, form, and expectations,
Bamboozle old-guard readers, try their patience.

“The poet, to be published, innovates,”
She said. “You need not look to Frost or Yeats,
Or fret if no one gets your drift. Just please your
Self. Toss wild words. Achieve a grand mal seizure.”

I listened well. I want to learn the shtick
Of swimming with the fognoscenti [sic],
Pretending I’m an enigmatic squid in
Creative clouds of ink, securely hidden.

I’m eager now to find my unique voice.
I’ll first warm up, and then I’ll make a choice:
Do re mi fa sol la ti do . . . I say!
I think I’m ready. Where’s my pen? Allez!

First published in the Summer 2008 issue of Words-Myth: A Quarterly Online Poetry Magazine of Poetry and Poetics

The Colonel

after Carolyn Forché

What you have heard about the man is true.
I sat in his house. Yes, I heard him speak.
At times, he would forget, let slip a clue
About his moral slant (at best oblique).
The interview at first was ordinary;
His life at home, domestic as my own,
But certain things I noticed seemed contrary
To his off-hand, almost too gentle, tone.
Our dinner conversation had been mild
Until I asked about the revolution.
The question made the Colonel’s eyes grow wild.
“There was,” he growled, “a strong home-brewed solution:
A mob is governed only by its fears.”
On the table he dumped a sack of ears.

First published in Volume VIII, Number 2, 2008 of The New Formalist

Helping Carolyn Forché Revise Her Prose Poem “The Colonel”

The Colonel’s men toil hard throughout the night;
They want to finish by the break of day,
For Devil’s work is best not done in light.

To stem revolt is a militia’s right—
El Salvador must be severe, they say.
The Colonel’s men toil hard throughout the night.

The bodies, mostly black—a few are white—
But all grotesque in dim night’s heedless gray.
The Devil’s work is best not done in light.

The rebels’ hopes were always less than slight,
And now they lie in careless disarray;
The Colonel’s men toil hard throughout the night

To make their point with those who dared incite
The mob to follow their rebellious way—
Oh, Devil’s work is best not done in light.

Their ears cut off, displayed, a horrid sight,
To show those left the gruesome price to pay.
The Colonel’s men toil hard throughout the night;
For Devil’s work is best not done in light.

Won First Prize in the Trellis Magazine Villanelle Contest of 2008, published in the Summer 2008 issue of Trellis Magazine

Pathology Lab

The newly bared contents of this man’s brain:
The foul effluvia, the brilliant hues,
The tiny pots and tubes that slowly lose
Their useless liquid to the suction drain.

The skull’s grey bone beneath the flap of skin
Is widely notched by humming circle saw,
Revealing to the practiced eye the flaw
That killed in spite of every medicine.

Is cancer all pathologists could find?
Shakespeare’s plays he knew, and Helen’s face,
Beethoven, prayers, the evening sun. Could these
Afflict the man but leave no scar behind?

I hate that thing that cannot save a trace
Of art or love but hoards its own disease.

First published in the Fall 2008 issue of Fifth Wednesday Journal

Pa and the Misfits

In every litter of pigs, Pa loved the runt,
The weakest pig that couldn’t push its way
Up to the teat but only squeal and grunt
While other pigs grew stronger every day.
With warmed-up milk and eyedropper, Pa fed
The runt till it could struggle to the teat.
This caring man spent hours in the shed,
To nourish, watch, and pity the misfit.
His favorite horse was gimpy stallion Dan,
Whose injured hip mishealed some years ago.
Poor crippled stud! But Pa, a gracious man,
Would lead Dan to the mares, however slow.
I used to wonder what to maim or break
So Pa would love me for the pity’s sake.

First published in the December 2008 issue of The Raintown Review

Ma and the Prairie Wind

Mornings, the prairie wind begins to rise,
Speeding our windmill up from fast to frantic.
It lewdly shapes Ma’s dress around her thighs,
And puts the Bluestem meadows in a panic.
Ma likes the wind, a sanitizing force;
She says it blows the stink off men and pigs.
She smiles to see the daily intercourse
Of wind and dust in playful whirligigs.
Years back, Pa did a chore he came to rue,
He set out elms as windbreaks on the west,
But as they grew, they came to block Ma’s view.
Hemmed in, she was increasingly distressed.
So Pa chopped down those elms; they had to go
To let Ma watch the road and feel winds blow.

First published in the Summer 2007 issue of The Raintown Review

Shocking Wheat

The binder kicks the bundles out in rows,
And now we shockers storm the field of wheat;
Our armor: hats and gloves and lightest clothes
To help us tolerate the summer heat.
We start by grabbing bundles by their twines,
Slant seed-heads up to catch the drying air.
There’s soon a field of pyramids in lines,
Small prairie steeples calling us to prayer.
I pause to squint down rows of golden shocks,
Forgetting I’m dog-tired, and this backache,
And sense that I’m in church, not orthodox,
Yet somehow healing for my spirit’s sake.
You pray that God will give you daily bread;
Try shocking wheat, and He’ll make sure you’re fed.

First published in the Summer 2007 issue of The Raintown Review

Remembering Her

Remember her, the fairest in the land?
Men honored her and swore their fealty,
But she would give no supplicant her hand,
Except, perhaps, to kiss in courtesy.
A light shone from her eyes, illuminating
The path where men walked hand-in-hand with her.
Her voice, now stern, now sometimes sweetly singing,
Brought comfort to us all. We felt secure.
She was at last debauched as in a game
To see which lout could throw her furthest down
And let inconstancy besmirch her name
From Hoity-Toity Heights to Shantytown.
—It’s long since past. I knew her in my youth.
Oh, I almost forgot, her name was Truth.

First published in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of The Deronda Review

The Relic in the Weeds

A curious whim brought me back home to find
Pa’s double-bottom plow. Its blades gleamed bright
In summers past, harsh-burnished by the grind
Of turning sod from dawn until last light.
Behind the barn, this relic hides in weeds,
No longer bright, nor hitched to Belgians now,
Fully retired—no commerce left with seeds.
The same with Pa: he’s resting like his plow.
They struggled breaking ground that gave them life
Till Pa himself became a bright plowshare,
Knife-sharp, deep-honed with sun and rub and strife,
Devoutly plowing on, as if in prayer.
“Don’t look back,” Jesus to the plowman said.
Pa set his mind on furrows straight ahead.

First published 2008 in Utmost Christian Writers


“Why do the honking geese make my heart ache?”
My eight-year-old knows how to put to me
Questions without good answers. For his sake,
We started pondering this mystery.

They circled back as if to emphasize
Some solemn message John had seemed to sense
When they flew by before with worried cries.
What did they fear with goose intelligence?

With rail-thin outstretched necks and tucked-back feet,
A dozen geese at barely treetop height,
Propelled themselves with metronomic beat
Of wings that should have given us delight.

We stood in silence, my small son and I,
And listened to the rhythmic shush of air,
A sound that seemed to intimate goodbye,
That winter’s near and all life must prepare.

The leader pointed south, and soon the geese
Were specks of darkness in a sunlit sky.
They left us with a melancholy peace
And now no need to answer my son’s why.

We paused a moment, then we walked away.
I had my work to do, and John his play.

First published in Issue No. 3, 2008, of Lucid Rhythms

The HyperTexts