May 11, 2018

Three Poems by Clyde Kessler: "Believing", " Blue-tailed Lizards", and "Ellum Trees"

Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, VA with his wife Kendall and their son Alan. In 2017 his poetry book, Fiddling At Midnight's Farmhouse, was published by Cedar Creek Publishing. Kendall illustrated the book. For more about Clyde, visit


One night we found our mule grazing moonlight
off the barbed wire. It was smiling, daddy said,
like it was eating briers, like it chewed flints
so its jaws flamed. Might have been the bootleg
fooling my eyes. Might have been lack of sleep.
Or both reasons. Or just what I remember false
to the evening, so that this poem is only a mule skull
on a fence post. I shape it now so a ghost believes.

Blue-Tailed Lizard 

My old man sleeps in the barn loft.
He believes he can hear a real heaven
in the fescue straw, as if the infant Jesus
took his farm into the manger, took
an old man’s sleep for the sky, or a wall,
or a wren prodding some food to its young.
Everything sang and still sings when he sleeps.

My old man wakes, and asks his whiskey
why all the emptiness, why the broken glass jar,
sneaking into the sunrise. He answers himself,
says it’s for the boy, the garden kale sprouting.
A blue-tailed lizard is watching my old man
telling me why all his chores are beginning again.
Everything is much earthier when he wakes.

Ellum Trees 

Down here the ellum trees are gone.
Chained up logs stashed on our trucks. Diseased
wood, but we still got some great planks. Sunrise
eats into the creek now where the trees were.

Chestnut trees, and elms are gone. Flocks
of starlings crowd the pines. I’m looking at
my first thirteen summers like burnt fields.
If there were wars in my yard, they slowed
and I crowed about their victories, even when
my oldest cousin arrived home from Vietnam
crazy drunk. Sunsets fit his mind to me.

Cure those trees, somebody swears.
Somebody lifts all the science from his hat.
I been here fifty more summers now.
I believe it. I believe a sunrise fits this world
to me. But our old logging truck hauls itself
in scrap metal, boating off to China.

Note: The ellum trees in the poem are the majestic American Elms that died out because of Dutch Elm Disease, and the few that remain have to be chemically treated.

~Clyde Kessler

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