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Four Poems
The Outlying Counties and Then Some

Everyone had a mother then, a working train set, 
and a nearby promenade to daze among flowers
whose names were difficult to pronounce. 
The sun was turning as we turned, though we couldn’t see
either very well and the sky held its grayed-in glass (unbreakable), 
waiting for the steam to settle, what little talc clings to the neck. 
We were talking about the smells of the flowers, 
how they never seemed right for the specific time of day, 
how the ladies who brought them in wicker baskets
and never said so much as mornin’ honey or hi there sweetheart
made you flush with a homespun affection that only seemed to exist 
on the radio, in mahogany voices. Summer didn’t last forever, 
as many said it wouldn’t, and despite the children selecting less colorful pajamas, 
we could still rely on a few stick-bearers to find that patch of wet cement. 

So why this quaking in the trees, the winter sidewalks so quick to melt? 
We were circumspect and felt every reason to be: some background 
of the thoughts we thought then, laden with parasols or peacoats, 
a clean bordering on magisterial that we had acknowledged years before
(we were conscious of doing so) made the rabbits tamer, the squirrels
vaguely harmonious. So much for the rapture of wheat fields, the ones 
far enough out we’d have to pack a thermos and several spare tires 
before the arrival on a scene of sparse trees, sparsely situated 
in a forgiven landscape, the landscape itself a reflection 
of the grace that gathered elsewhere. This was, of course, 
long before the shortening of salutations, 
mauve to midnight and slowly back again, 
long before any of us could remember.


Poem with Contrails

June’s last maidens, strolling daybreak. 
Tulip-prim, tenor wind 
in the flue. The air expanding then: my mother 
small along the water. 

Who knew the month, the friendly weather? 
I was thinking somewhere else so 
I was here. Stray maidens, stay.
Pray for all my other times of year. 

Chimney crumble, bright brick. 

Mother and flowers flying and clear. 

A plane raking its own snow.



The fields of Lancaster

Awake in lavender, tilling

Motions in a low sky: 

What goes from tree to somewhere

Tree, what runs beneath

A buried bridge. 

At a far enough distance, everything

Silent, silent is. Leaf-smear

The train window, Amish girls

Singing in a silo & I

Once heard a buzz saw sunk

In an ocean my

Eyes were full cups closing

In the sound—thinnest blade— 

Ears opening for all

That circle-green sea.


Elegy, Aphasia

—to J. R. Lottes


dawn, a meeting

place between

what we feel 

before it’s how

we remember. 

Color in

some next dawn

orchestral and willing

any color please any

your speaking hand. How

it stencils the air.

Timothy O’Keefe's poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, New American Writing, and Pleiades. More of his work is available at the Electronic Poetry Review.