Jennifer Popa


Poet Husbandry

Jennifer Popa

          For William and all my poets

When Pappaw dies, I inherit his land, to rear his flock. And so, I am a farmer of poets like my father and his, and back and back and back. After the funeral, I visit the barn where they are busy breaking lines. I introduce myself. They begin their hellos with epitaphs, with the wisdom of Lucille Clifton, discussions of flowers, with ruminations of the moon—whether it is waxing or waning.

They can make anything a verb: he obnoxes; she mules. In the mornings I bring them black coffee, fresh ink, and they offer new words: sublimation, cauterize, drumstick, shin, ribcage—so many bones. I admire the lilt of their voices.

Sometimes, in the garden, they narrate as I bury bulbs:

          The damp
          murmur of his hands
          coaxes dirt
          into cake.

One insists:

          He buries the throb
          of his father’s salted heart.

They’re always breaking the fourth wall of the barn. It crashes down at least once a week. In the new light, they squint from hay-packed corners. I catch them masturbating to Louise Glück or Terrance Hayes, or thumbing mud on the fallen barn wall to mark stresses.

When my mare goes into labor she’s agitated by a word, changes it thirty-six times between brays, opts for a twist ending. When the foal is born they huddle, call her a new fruit with two little peepers. Say she is lidless, secretless, pitless. They bless her, and each draws an ampersand with their finger along her forehead. They make off with the hooch from the cellar and celebrate into the night.

But their laughter goes quiet when the barn catches fire. The only skyscraper I’d ever know was the water tower until these flames reached for sky, until I learned smoke wanted for heaven. When I open my mouth the air tastes of pine, and I am once again just a child tonguing the church pew, my small hand in Pappaw’s. But now, with hands outstretched, I admire the barn’s swell and watch it burn. We don’t bother with water or pails.

A glow pear, the mare says. And for the first time, I know destruction to be beautiful, and want to write an elegy—my own.

Jennifer Popa is a short story writer, essayist, and occasional poet. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate of English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University where she’s working on a collection of short stories and a novel. Some of Jennifer’s most recent writing can be found at The Florida Review, Pithead Chapel, Juked, Berkeley Fiction Review, and Colorado Review. She can be found at