"The Incumbent"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 20 2006 6:31 AM

"The Incumbent"

Click here to listen to Eric McHenry read this poem.

A root with no apparent source is shouldering up through the incoherent, ash-rich soil in which J.C. Hebbard's body lies a-mouldering,

and may topple his
eye-high obelisk.
Its attitude already
registers the breach.

He made one modest run
for secretary of state,
pulling about fifteen
percent, like every Green-
back Labor candidate,

signed on as Sockless Jerry
Simpson's secretary
and rode the Populist
groundswell to Washington,

then came home to this last
unelected office.
That's one thing cemeteries
have going for them: low
turnover, and yet here he's
about to be unseated
by the one errant surface
root of a distant oak.

Down there among the others,
his casket-husk must look
like a dismasted ship
or sperm whale in the grip
of something legendary.

My great-great-great-grandfather's
monument takes a bow,
and threatens, with the shadow
of its attenuated
capital, the rest
of his west-tending row.
I love this cemetery's
asymmetries, although
it must be hell to mow.

Eric McHenry is the author of Potscrubber Lullabies, which received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He teaches at Washburn University.

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