Category Archives: Poems

The World Needs More Nellies

In the first volume of the Round Barn saga I talked about Nellie Needham, my grandfather’s second cousin, who loaned money for the building of the barn after Grampa’s brother-in-law, the esteemed president of a Methodist seminary, spent the money he’d promised Grampa —spent it and lost it on a pecan grove, hah! In Volume Three, my editor had a blank page at the end, and put in the “Nellie” poem I wrote for Illinois Times, where I have a weekly spot. We didn’t have a photo then —but I have since found one, among the heaps of material I brought from the farm. Here she is, in her 90s, turning over the first spadeful of dirt for a new Methodist church in Watertown, Wisconsin —she donated her land for the edifice! I met her at about that time —perhaps 1943. I was a kid, she was old, wrinkled, spry.

nellie poem #1

nellie needham a spinster schoolteacher
my grampa’s second cousin loaned him
money in 1911 to build the round barn it
was paid back very slowly over the years
during the depression she lowered the
interest to match the federal land bank
wouldn’t take no for an answer my dad
inherited the debt told nellie he’d pay
interest and some principle every due
date but only if she first wrote to him
she did but never mentioned money a
lively correspondence ensued over many
years I met her once in watertown I was
fifteen she was over ninety tiny wrinkled
spry bright eyed she said the chariot had
missed her door if it didn’t swing low
soon she and her friends were going to
charter a bus she also said every day
she raised her kitchen shade if it stayed
down her neighbors would know she was
in trouble when my father paid the last
installment she returned it wrote that of
all the family she’d lent money to he and
his father were the only ones who ever
paid it back I have the file of mutual
letters it is sweet reading she says old
age has been kind to her with health
home friends what more can she need?
nothing, but the world needs more nellies

cowcount poem #1100

cow poses for camera

mitch you’re totally wrong
when you say why do I need
1100 cows on my computer my
reply is if you need 11 cows it is
good to have 1100 to choose from
we have the singing cow the
suspicious cow the bellicose cow
the contemplative cow we have
cows in parades cows reluctant
to go in the barn cows coming
from pasture eager to be milked
cows that are beauties a cow
really ugly with crumpled horn
spavined hips whose name is
actually beauty we have cows
surrounded with schoolkids
cows being milked in the barn
daisy being milked in a milking
contest at a college field day
we have two farmhands sitting
on a cow fields of contented cows
and we haven’t even got to bulls
and calves yet no 1100 is not too
many mitch when you dive to photo
fish in a coral reef do you want just
11 fish no you want 1100

kitchenpoem #2

The room above the double doors is specifically intended to catch flies!
The room above the double doors is specifically intended to catch flies!

(originally published October 19, 2006, in the Illinois Times)

if you’re wondering how to
get rid of a pesky housefly
turn off all the lights open
the fridge door he’ll fly right into
the sudden brightness slam the
door later on open it cautiously
in his numbed state he’s easily
dispatched with a napkin but
be sure you’ve covered the butter
my grampa had the idea earlier
his cows entered the round barn
through a dim passage a hanging
blanket brushed the flies off their backs
the only light a bright slit overhead
they flew up crawled through
into a closed room all windows
no way out no sense to crawl back
through the now dark slit a farmhand
would sometimes enter the room and
shovel up a bushel of desiccated
bodies not many of us have cows
these days but most of us have fridges
maybe I should send this household
hint to heloise I wonder if she pays

Richest Black

Nature Photography

on bitter nights when deep drifts
blocked our long country lane we
hiked up left the car on the road
snowpants boots our white breath
searing our windpipes we followed
daddy’s tracks as he pushed the way
to light and warmth I loved those treks
the sky its richest black and the stars!
the stars so bright so close you could
swipe down handfuls in your mittens
in your arms hug the frozen milky way

Many of you know that I write a poem a week for the Illinois Times; it’s on the Letters page and you could look it up if you want to at I’ll put this one here because so many people have gone out of their way to tell me how much they like it (many of my poems do not receive comments).

govt follies poem #77

Here’s another poem I printed in the Illinois Times, in my regular column of the letters page. I’ve never thought of myself as a poet so I just write what I want about happenings, memories, etc, and my style is limited to my space—a column’s width and not very long. I’ve followed John Knoepfle’s lead in using no punctuation or caps except when really necessary. Some caps are necessary in this poem about a transaction between myself and my daughter who teaches in a Wisconsin high school:
I recently sold my daughter my pickup
she changed title insurance got new
plates but didn’t bother to switch yet
there was still some illinois grace
period yesterday she opened the packet
found wisconsin had issued her
F U TRUCK she called me how can
I be a respectable high school reading
teacher driving F U TRUCK her friends
whoop think the state out of its mind no
surprise with government they’ll probably
change them if you ask but it’s a nuisance
I say why not fix a flap to hide the letters
when a cop stops you lift the leather ask
what he’d suggest or maybe get some paint
change the F to P the U to O then you’d be
P O TRUCK only piss off the post office
you’re F U full of good ideas says my kid

Six-Day Cow

I’ve been digging through materials from my family farm and found a clipping that fits with something my grampa said. I used it as a poem in Illinois Times where I supply a weekly column:

1952 news item just found:
“Dairy Workers to 5-Day
Week.” —ten years before
this clipping I heard my
grandfather say “We can’t
go to a six-day week until
we breed a six-day cow.”

Speaking of labor issues, I’ve also found items dating from the 1920s that document Grampa’s struggles with how to give each of his hired men a day off. He also wanted each man to to have a half day on Sunday for relaxation and devotion. He solved the problem by working himself one day each week in place of the man released, and juggling Sunday in various ways. He included himself in having a full day off every week. He’d get up and put on his good clothes, then read, write, and spend time with his family.