Three Poems


These days we all feel diminished. Goliath’s
genius is to convince the little person
he’s with him, on his side, fighting Goliath.

We were the first state to pass Worker’s Comp,
1911. As schoolchildren, we felt proud
that Wisconsin had subdued Goliath.

Our scoutmaster preached community. But when
he went back to his tent to drink, we could
sense the restless presence of Goliath.

Goliath is so much bigger than one
corrupt politician! We have all grown too
comfortable with losing to Goliath.

We can’t wait for the second coming
of Fighting Bob La Follette. Let’s each find
our stone of purpose to sling at Goliath.

Please don¹t take me literally. Goliath
is a force that keeps coming back to life. Each new
generation must find its way to topple Goliath.

The House on the Corner
i.m. James Nobley

Mornings I’d see Gladys in her robe, 
coffee mug in hand, tending her roses 
after a double shift at the hospital.
Hard-working single mom, she left
the house to her son James during
the foreclosure, moved into
the city with her boyfriend.

James rode his motorcycle 
down in death’s ditch a week 
before his thirty-third birthday. 
The day of the funeral, someone set 
a soft drink from Subway in the street 
before the house like an offering.
Car-wheels smashed the cup flat.

Last week, the developer who bought
the property from the bank cut down
the sixty-foot pine in the yard,
demolished the shed and fence, 
tore out the lilac and rose bushes.
Now a lumbering shovel claws the flimsy
structure to pieces like some monster 

crab in a fifties horror film, splinters
the walls to kindling. Supersized
dump trucks haul off the debris,
until all that remains of the house
that has stood on the corner for so many
years is a dust cloud, through which
a neighbor’s flag hangs limply on its pole.

No more cracked white chimney 
ghosting above the rooftop, 
nor pale curtains sagging over
inner darkness. They’re coming soon
for the dingy two-story next door 
where another single-parent working-
poor family struggles to hold on.

Poor house where Gladys and her son
failed, poor teabag heart of America, 
wrung to the last drop by the wreckers!
Poor flag in the dust, doubly shamed when
we force working families from their homes
and send our young to die knocking down
the houses of the poor in distant lands!

At the Dollar Store

A florid young man off the farm
addresses me as “sir.” Is it because
I’m wearing a fedora instead of a ball
cap? We’re in the cleaning products
aisle, he looking for Pinesol and I
for Comet Cleanser for my mother.
The man’s face is rosy and open.
His friend, or brother, a little
older, rifles eagerly through the DVDs.
Later I see him standing in the check-
out line, entranced by the disk
he holds before him with both hands,
feet planted stolidly apart. Simple
, I think, then realize
I’ll stare as raptly when the new
Springsteen album arrives.

My mother wheels her cart in a kind
of slow frenzy, past the food
items among which I notice things
I wouldn’t touch now but ate gladly
as a kid. In those years, Main Street
boasted two grocery stores. They’re both
gone. People look more ravaged than when
I lived here—oh, to have traveled down
the freedom road of the twentieth century
only to find oneself in this Egypt,
this bondage of the “job creators”
under the flag of the American mean streak.

I check the expiration date on the
Cheez-Its—good another six months.
A haggard once-pretty woman re-
stocking cans of pineapple smiles
wanly. Don’t forget our hearts. I don’t
know which is sadder—that the goods
here are crumbs thrown to the poor
from the feast-table of the rich,
or that the even more desperately
hungry of this world, in Somalia
and Sudan, would undoubtedly find
even in this godawfully depressing
backwater the plenty of the blessed.

—Thomas R. Smith, River Falls, WI