"The Names"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 3 2008 7:00 AM

"The Names"

Listen to Joe Wilkins read this poem.


It is no good to grow up hating the rich.
*********************—B.H. Fairchild

That boy with nine fingers was beaten mean—
now his wheatshock hair is always flame. The woman
from Yellow Horse? Her second daughter froze
to death in a ditch. And Pete, did you know
that slender boy who in the fifth grade snuck a pack

of his father's Camels onto the recess yard? 
Remember how we spat and choked and loved
every red-eyed minute of it? Near ten years ago,
laid off and drunk in this blasted land
of Reagan bankruptcy and corporate farming,

he took his little rust and yellow Chevy Luv
fishtailing down a gravel road out of Ingomar
and fast over Highway 12 where a trucker making time
hit him broadside at eighty. But you know this.
You've made your wise peace,

and though I've got no right, I somehow
don't care. Why not hate the rich? It's easy,
and some days easy's what I need. I lie down
in the spring wet alfalfa and hear the wind
like water, but then, always, the unraveling

clouds shift the sky into blue highway,
and the Newman boy guns his truck of dark cloud
across it, and when I open my eyes everything
is shattered. This country I call home is, like yours,
lost, and my people too are lost, like me,

so let me hate with them, let me sit up at the bar,
and curse the banker, the goddamn-silly-designer chaps
the new boss man from back east wears,
let me speak the names of the dead and get righteous,
for at least one more round.

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, and a collection of poems, Killing the Murnion Dogs. He teaches at Waldorf College.