Tuesday Poem

Coleman Barks

John Seawright's great uncle Griff Verner
spent much of his last days whittling neck-yokes
for his chickens to wear so

they couldn't get through the wide slat divisions of
his yard fence. There are other possible
solutions to this problem, but eggs have

yolks, and Griff Verner's chickens had yokes, and he
himself had that joke-job in a bemused
neighborhood that watched every move.

Somewhere there's a crate of Griff's chicken yokes, I hope,
as there's a wild shoebox of vision-songs
stashed by a poet whose name we don't know yet,

nor the beauty and depth of his soulmaking, hers. Griff's
white pine, Rembrantian fowl-collars may
have also served as handles to wring their

necks with when Sunday demanded. John's grandmother's
Methodist house had only two books in it, the Holy
Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs. When it rained,

there wasn't much to do indoors, and on Sundays nothing, no
games, no deck of cards, no dominoes. Of course, no
television. I grew up in a house with no

television in the 1940's and on into the mid-50's. We were
in education. Sometimes at night there would
be five different people in four different

rooms reading five different books. John says once
his mother caught Sam and him playing cards
on the floor. She snatched up the deck and said,

“Well, you can play cards in jail.” There's always chores to
do in the methodical world, no spare time to waste or
kill. Throw those idle gypsy two-faces

in the trash. Let them find other haphazard palms to occupy.
John's father could carry on a side conversation with
him while typing a sermon. John remembers how as a

child he would sit and talk with his dad and watch him do
those two word things simul-manu-larynxactly
together in the after-dinner Friday night office.

Griff Verner's whittling comes when you're not spry
enough to chase chickens but take some interest
in the public's consternation with oddness.