This poem, by Steve Givens, won an honorable mention in this year’s Jade G. Bute Writing Contest sponsored by Chesterfield Arts. Steve read the poem at the Walter’s Walk concert on May 4 and two days later on May 6 at a special reading at Chesterfield Arts for this year’s winners. This year’s contest was judged by Richard Newman, editor of River Styx for 18 years.
Down on the Bottom Road he crosses the centerline
And breathes in slowly, a prayer perhaps
A little glassy-eyed and in his cups
His fields of brown and shriveled cornstalks
Racing by on either side of his old swerving Ford flatbed
In the middle of June when all should be golden.
He slides his hands back and forth across the top of the worn-smooth steering wheel
Remembering for an instant the spinning bumpers cars
At the old Chain of Rocks Fun Park and laughs
Tears streaming down his weathered 27-year-old face
Too young to have the weight of these God-forsaken fields on his orphaned back.
Two tiny points of light are dead ahead, coming for him like harvest time should
Appearing and disappearing in the undulating rolls and folds of the road
Cutting through his father’s good earth.
He blinks and wipes his face
Pulls at his feed cap
Beer spilling down his chin and into his open flannel work shirt
Red and blue squares across his muddied and paint-specked chest.
He turns sideways, away from the light
And sees in row after row of flashing yellow fields
Generations of fallen family members standing sentinel
Lost to wars and the fickle land
In the ears he sees the eyes of his own children not yet conceived of or conceived
Fruit of some future seed
A better yield, he begins to think,
Than this bitter pill of a summer he has swallowed.
The globes of tantalizing white dance larger before him
Yet he sees in these fields of ancestors and descendants
Burley little boys in overalls with his nose and someone else’s eyes
A 16-year-old in a white cotton dress who kisses his cheek
and asks for the keys to the truck
Promising to be home early.
And he smiles, slowly, crookedly,
Wipes his eyes with a tattered sleeve
Moving his hands ever so slightly to the right
As white beams pass flashing low to high
and a horn trumpets long and shrill.
He breathes out.
Down on the Bottom Road he crosses the centerline.
More poetry: Three years ago, Steve won first place in the Big River Writing Contest sponsored by Chesterfield Arts and Stages St. Louis for his poem celebrating the 100th anniversary of the death of Mark Twain, I Been There Before.