Excerpts from “Shards of Blue”

"Shards of Blue" by Michael Ratcliffe

“Shards of Blue” by Michael Ratcliffe

Last Friday’s post was an interview with geographer and poet Michael Ratcliffe, whose chapbook, Shards of Blue, will be published Aug. 21 by Finishing Line Press. As a special preview, Michael has agreed to share a couple of poems with Little Patuxent Review readers.

John and Mary, Smith County, Kansas, 1882, just before Mary’s death.

He sits beside her bed,
a prairie of silence between them,
watching her as she sleeps,
gray-streaked hair down,
loose across her shoulders
(the way he always liked it)
framing her face, tanned even in winter.

He has overcome distance,
but cannot conquer time.
The space of years bears the silence;
the words he wanted to say
carried off by the prairie wind
during the ride to her house.
He is glad she sleeps.

He takes a glass from his pocket
and places it on the table next to her bed.
Once one of a pair; now alone,
the other broken years ago.

So he sits, watching, while she sleeps.
With each faltering breath of hers,
and each expectant breath of his,
the silence deepens and closes
the space between them.
Time stops in the fading afternoon.
They are together again.

The sons arrive at her door to break the silence.
Pa, it’s time to go. We’ll take you home.

The fading sun glints off the glass
and casts a pale blue light across her face.
She will not thirst again.

Mary, Smith County, Kansas, 1877

Look at you now, broken and bitter,
no spark of the free-soil radical
who, “Beecher Bible” in hand, led us here.
Your dark eyes that once burned with life
now see only shadows.

When you went to war to free the slaves,
grand on your horse like the other men,
you said you’d be fine, and I cried.
You said you’d come home soon,
but you came home changed.
The pain from your wounds paled
to the pain in your heart,
and as the years went by
you sank into darkness,
forsook the vows you made to me,
and I decided I was done with you.

Look at me, sunburnt and hard
from years working our farm.
Here I am, pushing my plow
on my quarter section of western Kansas.
The boys rarely speak of you.
This is our life now,
amid the cottonwoods and the shallow creeks.
And you, alone in your bitter world.
Gene and John said they’ll look in on you.

But don’t come here and darken my world,
for I plan to turn this prairie green.

Online Editor’s Note: Michael’s chapbook, Shards of Blue, is available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press, with shipment expected August. 21, 2015.

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