Michelle Patton


This is not about the smell of trees.
I will not mention the names of flowers
or loam. Loam will not appear in this poem.
There is no frost on the barn, no soft snow falling.
It never snows in this poem. Only consider
an empty field in a neighborhood of tract houses.
A field, as you know, suggests waiting and
the accidents of history. Consider the tires
and floral loveseats in this field, and the girl
in the one gnarled fig tree, book open on her lap,
book she’s about to drop in the dust, dust in this valley
of no snow and little rain. Now, imagine something
as real as a plate of spaghetti hurled against the wall,
in the middle of a dinner no one asked for,
in the middle of a family stunned into silence
by the accidents of their lives, by the fact
of a red stain left on the kitchen wall.


When I was six I let the neighbor kid
rub butter on me in the hot Marin sun.
He was in love with something he saw on TV
or heard on his mother’s lonely radio.
His mother with her rings and loose laugh
listened in once on the bedroom phone
as Sean told me a new thing we could try,
something he saw her do with one of her boyfriends.
We’d wander around the dry fields and yellow hills,
playing at love. He pulled me in a red wagon,
picked cattails for me, taught me to whistle.
When he told me take my shirt off, I did it.
Like some kind of strange insect, we rubbed
our naked chests together in the bright afternoon
near the hill all the kids slid down on cardboard boxes
for that thrill, that thrill that sometimes caught fire
and burned those yellow hills.

Michelle Patton‘s poems have previously been published in Southern Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, and Crab Creek Review.