Terrain.org 11th Annual Contest in Poetry Finalist
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.
Kristy 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.