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Before the Franklin Stove

Is it preferable to say possum piss
or opossum piss?
To call the old woman
Mrs. or Ma’am?
To stand in the woods in the thundering
dark, or retreat to the pond,
sipping handfuls of moonlight?

For the first time
I realize I am a damp autumn night.
I am a sycamore
shedding the golden summer
in the quiet hours no one sees.
A shagbark hickory, leaning against the shed,
about to fall.

There is a secret choking in the leaves.
Things get cut off. Words at the close
of sentences no longer matter.
We call the dogs. They crawl home,
despondent over the coming frost.
Their hound snouts holding bits of summer
to dream with before the Franklin stove
during the long coming snows.

Rain rhymes with rain.
But it also rhymes with things
that hurt. Ask the sadhus on the banks
of Mother Ganga. They will hand you
two halves of an insect and suggest
how it all comes together in another life.

Preferable. Is it preferable
to be young and stupid
or a man of sixty-one with bones
that ache when it rains?
Is it best to one day retire
into the thin air of Colorado
or to sink further into these Indiana woods,
making them darker than dark
could possibly be?
To embrace the dark
or stay stupid over morning tea?
Like I did just hours ago
when it rained. Steadily. And all I could think
was how one day I would be the mud,
and the mud would be me.



George Kalamaras, former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016), is the author of fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck, winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize (2011). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.