we mean there’s torque to be doubled, the way the quarter- horse re-couples her shoe-heavy
hooves, head down, and throws herself forward, we mean the load in the sled demands a
hard haul ahead, the hill to be taken as a problem not of moment but momentum, we mean
the chili will taste better once the bitter bread of winter’s eaten, slashing our faces sheet on sheet,
just as in summer we mean it matters not how hot the sun if there are chores to be done.
The knuckles have nothing to do with it really, not the ones around reins or handles, not
the ones we wring like rags over figures evenings—no we don’t mean those—we mean the knuckles
of our wills, those folding bones in there somewhere where our lives have hold of the land—
we mean that the whole body, the whole mind, the whole damned soul is a goddamned hand.
When My Father Says Toughen Up
it’s like the clop of the walnut block beneath the gavel of the
judge who fits the punishment to the crime, or like the pop of the
velveteen seedpod of the lupine finally scattering its ordnance of
shot amongst the hollyhock, or like the aftershock of a
Massey Ferguson engine cut off too hot, that chuff out the muffler
that echoes off the pole barn sharp as a whooping cough,
or like the upstart of a startled roughed grouse thumping into
flight right beside you on a walk, or like the hard clap on the back
you get when you choke, as if to congratulate you. He didn’t
say it to berate you, he said it to hike you up an inch or two, like
when he took you by the collar when you were little to zip you
into that boiled wool jacket he sent you out to chores with,
or like the high salute we send soldiers to wars with.
When My Mother Says Tough Luck
it’s like the rough leather tongue in a boot somehow,
the way you dig your thumb in there when it gets
stuck to curl it out again against the topside
of your foot and pull it flat so you can truss it up,
or like the slap of milk on milk in a metal bucket
carried up the ramp to be dumped in the bulk-
house tank with the rest, or the clink of the bucket
handle against the bucket once the milk’s poured out
and the bucket’s done its chore, or like the
prayer a shucked off pair of garden gloves cough
softly when they’re chucked from the hand and land
filthy on the back porch floor.
Todd Boss is a poet, public artist and film producer in Minneapolis. His poetry collections are Pitch (2012, W. W. Norton) and Yellowrocket (2008). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, NPR, The London Times, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, the Midwest Booksellers’ Choice Award, and the Emily Clark Balch Prize from Virginia Quarterly Review. His large-scale public artworks include a 2012 installation in the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis to mark the 5th anniversary of the 35W Bridge collapse, and a block-wide projection of poetry films onto the 3D surface of Saint Paul’s historic Union Depot. He is the founding Executive and Artistic Director of Motionpoems, a nonprofit initiative that partners with major publishers and film companies to turn great contemporary poems into short films. More at toddbosspoet.com.