Poem of the Week | August 17, 2015

This week we offer a new poem by Edgar Kunz. Kunz lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches at Vanderbilt University. His work appears or is forthcoming in AGNI, Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Forklift Ohio, Devil’s Lake, and other places. He moves to San Francisco in the fall to begin a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University.
Author’s note:

I lived for a while in Baltimore and worked at a farm and outdoor school upstate. I’d drive up every morning to Parkton, Maryland, a small town close to the PA state line. Part of my job was to help run the cattle from pasture to pasture. We’d walk behind them in the road and wave our arms over our heads, trying to make ourselves look bigger than we were.



Baltimore Rescue Mission
Fairmount and Central


I saw it on the drive up to the farm yesterday
and I see it again this morning: SCUM


in fat bubble letters. White paint livid
on the blacked-over brick. Six thirty and a line


to the middle of the block. Looks like
ordinary folks, mostly. Tired, sure. Hungry.


A little embarrassed. How my brothers and I
must have looked waiting outside Social Services


while our father went in to sign up for stamps.
Squatting on the curb, hoping we didn’t see


anyone we knew. Positive everyone was looking.
No one was looking. Nobody looks


at me now, idling at the light, or at the tag,
or at each other, even – heads down,


shuffling toward the double doors that open
on rows of lawn chairs and folding tables,


plastic placemats the color of bleach.
When we ran the cattle yesterday morning,


herd of herefords raised for beef, it was
my first time, but I recognized the sharp flanks,


the hunger and fear that moves them
from one chewed-up pasture to another.


When Dad finally came out, he had a look
we couldn’t figure. He told the three of us


to stay put, then went and sat by himself
in the truck. The day before, someone had taken


a claw hammer to the steering column
and sped off with a bed-full of tools –


table saw, air compressor, everything. The cops
found it abandoned, empty, on the interstate.


He seemed leaner, then, and dangerous.
We knew better than to speak. We practiced


hawking loogies. We took a chunk
of concrete to the side of the building,


carved our names in the flaking paint.
Then a few dirty words we knew. I’m at the light


long enough now to see the line swell to the end
of the block and disappear around the corner.


Listening to the tick of the engine.
Wondering if our names are still back there.


When we stood, a few of us, at both ends
of Rayville Road, waving off cars and driving


the cattle up toward the far pasture,
I watched a calf shuffle by. Same as the others,


but with a white spray across his flank.
Crude lettering. Some local boys,


I guessed. Names, or cusses. Something violent
and proud. Something about hunger.