Sunset over winding river on prairie

Three Poems by Kristy Gledhill

Terrain.org 11th Annual Contest in Poetry Finalist

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How Flat?

Flat land. Flat as a long-drawn breath.
Flat as the muscular skin of the river, snaking—
opaque, brown, smelling of catfish mud—
through the rich bottomland it helped flatten.

Flat as Grampa’s rock-rimmed farm pond, flat-blue face
in purled October fog. Flat-tire flat. Enough-to-make-you-cry
flat when you first learn what foothills are. Flat as the soccer fields
backing the school property up to the beans. So flat

you’re raking dead leaves from three counties over. Flat as the voice
of the teenager shoving a chili dog at you
through the Frosty Boy window. So flat you can’t forget
where you’re going. Dirt-clod fight flat. Flatter than the can

of Bud Lite rolling around in the pickup bed.
Woodchuck heaven flat.
Flat as an autodrive combine. Trucker-hat flat. Flat as the math
it takes to calculate how long it’ll take you to get there.

Ditchbank snowdrift flat. So flat this road crosses the state line
without blinking. Back-of-the-hay-mow, hay-baling flat. Flatbed flat.
Friday night football field flat. Flat as the middle school choir.
Flat as I make myself, lying in the grass, trying to get how flat.

So flat the rise above the filtration pond is worn to bare dirt
on the first snow day. Mudflap flat. Swamp-bottom flat.
Can-a-Skoal-in-your-back-pocket flat.
I’d-give-you-directions-but-why-don’t-I-just-point flat.

Flat like it’s been steamrolled, pressed and hung on the line.
Pumpkin-patch flat, squash grown fat with the flatness.
Broken-down windmill, sugar-beet growing flat. Flat like this joke:
What did the river say to the two hills? The two whats?
Flat like that.




The boulder, just submerged, suggests
something about volume, clarity, depth,
flow. Something the river can’t say.

The bobbing snag—jagged limb
sworn to its drowned mother trunk—
How much can be tolerated?

The cut bank—its cupped palm
guiding the very force that diminishes it,
pulls bare-root trees long down its smooth
face—a deep devotion.

What is it to know a thing
by what it holds? By what it
wears down? What it allows?

Say, then, what parts the undertow,
lingers in the eddies, steadies the
reckless meander, stands firm
in the current’s unbound roll.



Home at Hand 

Even here—a continent’s pealed expanse away—
you know to say thistle, sumac, sassafras; mix

silt-laced floodplain clay with beechnut litter,
hickory loam. When you have sat in it and gotten

your jeans muddy, your lips chapped by it,
when you have cried over the upturned face

of a late summer wild carrot, kept company
with tattered October monarchs, when cardinal

and jay—shriek and looping trill—curl
in a tight place behind your ear, the words come:

thistle, sumac, sassafras. Your hand finds
the acorn cushioned in the moss.





Kristi GledhillKristy Gledhill is knee-deep in her creative thesis at Rainier Writing Workshop, Pacific Lutheran University’s MFA program. She is a freelance writer and racial justice activist with deep Midwestern roots, currently living in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Header photo by Alex Hu, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Kristy Gledhill by Dean Davis.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.