By Jerome L. McElroy
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When dark night dawned

the deep arroyo seeking sea

swimming dry for decades

through the Southwest desertscape

sparkled silver in first light

brimming with new chrism.


The frenzy of garrulous gulls
diving into dawn surf
decorates the fringes
of the fog-soaked bay

smeared in the center
by fresh rain footprints
from tumbling inland streams
the salmon plough till dark

flashing up jagged falls
over cottonwood debris
against the swollen current
and the grizzly predators

to tempt at every bend
their hunger and fatigue
conspiring with the universe
to block the passage home.


Before the balers came to Indiana
on dusty afternoons in June
the Lathrops and Rosboroughs
would war to see what team could
pitch the highest load ahead
of sunset on the wagon home.
Because they were stronger
my older neighbors lifted longer
and always won the battle.

I was a minor double threat.
When my arms gave out
from vaulting shocks of clover,
I took a turn at stacking
and tried to catch each thrown
up forkful cleanly in the air
and thread it tightly
to the sinews of the last
so the load wouldn't roll
and the horses lurch it off
when we dipped into the creek
en route to the barn.  Usually
the game was called when I
became so dizzy in the clouds
my uncles feared I'd stumble
off the mountain and damage
more than winter fodder.

  But when the tractors came
it was not the same.
When we vied to plow
the bottom beans the fastest,
I had the edge.  Our Ferguson
could cultivate in road gear
and easily dust their Harvester.
But it was a costly victory.
I had made a naked two-row
gash in the patch that grew


up to the bayou, shifting gears
perhaps or dodging bumblebees.

When he asked about the scar
I lied.  "It was the hungry groundhogs,
Grandpa."  His wise smile,
bent around alfalfa and curing
clover in the sun, was my
absolution.  He knew we were
growing other roots, harvesting
new hopes to last when this life
was lost and boyhood's broken
dreams needed tending.

Jerome L. McElroy is an academic economist with a research specialty in the development problems of small tropical islands. His 26-poem chapbook, "Secret Seams," was a finalist in ByLine's 2006 Silver Anniversary Chapbook Competition and semi-finalist in Finishing Line Press's 2006 Open Chapbook Competition. Finishing Line will publish "Secret Seams" in May of 2007; the chapbook can be purchased at: