At a Conference on Nature

The famous land conservation scientist
ended his barrage of statistical data
leaned lazily on his podium
and requested questions.

A city dweller (so known by his
apologetic preface, "I'm not a farmer")
asked about combine sharing and
loans to ward off bankruptcies.

The speaker asked for audience input.

A farm wife stood to respond.
"Fifty-four years," she said proudly,
"All my life. Raised 13 kids,
9 went to 4-year colleges,
1 left in high school.
Tomorrow they auction it off.
The farm won't support the 3 of us left.
We did everything we were supposed to:
land conservation, good management,
obeyed the laws of God...
I don't have any answers."

No one replied.
Her husband sat silent beside her.

The hush hung
like summer heat
above a fallow field.

The Old Man on the City Park Bench Speaks

"Dealt me a joker," he says.
"All my life, cards been wrong."
He smiles softly, shakes his head.
"Got fists full of misdeals,
would take a book to tell."
He takes off his bowler,
brushes off the city's dust,
runs a hand over thinning hair,
sets his hat back precisely
as though it were a crown.
Light shines off the fabric
of his worn suit coat.
He rests gnarled fingers
on mended pants knee.

"Still it's nice here,
sittin', bathin' in the sun.
All my sea o' troubles
can't wet my shoes today."
He tap dances,
sitting on the bench,
just his feet --
in wing-tips so run down,
they're a downright shame.
Sounds of the surrounding city
fade to distant mumble.
His feet are blissful blur,
'til at sudden stop,
a silence falls.

A moment later, he says again
"Dealt me a joker;
all my life, cards been wrong..."

Duck, Duck, Duck

After half a block,
she notices the duck
plodding after her,
determined little web feet
slapping the sidewalk,
tail swaying east then west.
She assumes she'll outpace him.
At the stop sign
he catches up,
turning his head from side to side,
but keeping one eye on her
all the time.
She crosses the street
mindful of leaving extra space
for oncoming cars.
He hops down to the pavement,
orange feet flapping black top,
struggles up the chest-high curb
on the other side.
After three blocks,
he's still there.
She shoos, he follows,
she scolds, he follows,
she flaps her arms,
he stays rooted by her.
She turns back the way they came,
moves at a comfortable waddle,
stops at stop signs,
him stopping behind her.
She pretends, "He's not my duck,"
and grumbles, "Use your wings."
They parade all the way
to the river, and after three tries,
leaving and coming back,
leaving and coming back,
leaving and coming back,
he enters the water
and swims away
without turning back,
current tugging him downstream,
the V of his wake
widening and vanishing.

Lost in the Stars

The Satellite Cafe was never added on
to the Sonic Motel, because he never
got the liquor license for the Boom Bar.

Now, he figured it was just as well.
After James Dean and Buddy Holly crashed,
the future didn't look so bright.

So, the neon jet on his vacancy sign
whizzes along leaving a permanent vapor trail,
The rooms' blonde dressers still

match the glass-topped bed stands.
The molded blue plastic chairs
complement wall-to-wall red shag.

He couldn't explain the connection he saw
between the way Elvis moved on stage
and the way Rosa Parks refused to stand up.

It made him doubt progress was always good.
When quiz shows turned out to be fixed
and Marilyn died, he decided to stay put.

Besides, since he wasn't close enough
to where they built interstates
to lose or gain any business,

there was never any reason to up-date.
He never got over or out of the 50s,
simply sat silently watching his sign blink,

lost in the stars.

Bedrock Blues

Sue's xylophone ribs
lay in South Dakota soil
for millennia, at rest,
the music she carried
long ago disemboweled
by a razor-toothed carnivore
with a taste for raw dinosaur.

Sue's drum skull emptied
by worms and maggots
lay hollow as the tom-toms
played above her brainless head.
The dancers were oblivious
to the glory she once was, thinking
buffaloes the greatest beasts.

Sue's rising for a profit
cooked a riff of counter claims
by finders, diggers, tribes and scholars
debating over her final, final
resting place. She ended up
standing up miles from her bed
in a room with no windows nor dignity.

At the Bus Stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana

At the bus stop on Center Street, at 8:03 A.M.,
a woman folds and unfolds a kleenex.
She is small, with a nose too big,
thin pale chapped lips,
and bottle-bottom-thick glasses
that distort her eyes like carnival mirrors.
She folds and unfolds a kleenex.

It came from the torn pocket of
her brown, bald-elbowed winter coat.
She bows her head; her
straggly pom-pommed stocking hat
flops forward like a limp penis.
Every day, waiting for the 8:08,
She folds and unfolds a kleenex.

She takes off raggedy mittens,
takes her kleenex from her pocket and
unfolds it, intent on what's inside,
then folds, unfolds, folds, puts it back --
on go her mittens, off go her mittens,
out comes the kleenex -- she unfolds
and folds and unfolds a kleenex.

In warmer seasons she sometimes
pokes at what's inside.
In winter, she just looks.
Sometimes she mutters softly,
like wind sighing, but not loud enough.
Over and over and over again,
she folds and unfolds a kleenex.

I've been watching her for months,
never close enough to see, to hear, to know

if it's empty.


The Angle Of Doing (Saturday Nights)

This is the night we jostle
From room to room picking
A bed or settling

Forgetting our losses or failing
This is the night we do

Weed or synthetic
Only asking the death
Of it all, the layers

And lawyers we are
Stacked and vituperating

Key To Activate

Something. Anything. Nothing.
At all. Chimneys buckling;
Shingles askew. Foundations
Twisted and cracked. Truth

(Meaning what gets done)
Happens in the march
The regimented lines. The margins,
Letters, legislation, interviews.

Action, the cracking of walls,
Of lives, or anything at all
Happens in the click, clink
Of plastic keys, fingers arched,

Confused infusions and cracked
Conversations, action. The slaughter
Of cities. The uncorking of bottles.
The little deaths that add up.

Fixed Mark

A gallery of fire
Balustrade of wind
From the rutted sand
Trackless figures moving

Wooden floors creak
As only the dried will
Ropes may be tied
Plans hatched, yet

When the attack comes
When the floor flares alight
Always there will be A start, always a glimpse

Or a wish to scream
Or a wish to survive


Dr. David Breeden has an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a Ph.D. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, with additional study at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He has published seven books of poetry and three novels. His work has appeared in such journals as Mississippi Review, Poet Lore, Mid-American Review,, North Atlantic Review, Boston Literary Review, Turnstile, Paragraph, and New Texas. His short film House Whine, co-written with Dr. Woods, was funded by the British Columbia Arts Council. Their film Off the Wall recently won "Best of Fest" at the Great Lakes Film Festival.

Nancy Kay Peterson's poetry has appeared in ArtWord Quarterly, Deep Breath (on-line), Futures Loonfeather, North Coast Review, NorthWords (on-line), Rag Mag, River Images, Sidewalks, Trapeze, and The Wolf Head Quarterly (in print and on-line). She is also co-founder and co-editor of Main Channel Voices: A Dam Fine Literary Magazine ( When not engaged in creative writing, she masquerades as the Director of Grants & Sponsored Projects at Winona State University. She shares her at home writing space with a scientist husband and three mischievous cats.

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