CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Three Poems
Andrew Grace



The End of the Midwest

For three days in the early 1800s, the Midwest ceased to exist. The strongest earthquakes on record tore open the Reelfoot Rift near New Madrid, Missouri. The Mississippi River ran backwards for several hours. A lake in Michigan began to boil and immediately a vast number of large tortoises rose to the surface, and swam rapidly to the shore, where they were taken for food by the locals.


*


I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.


*


December 16th, 1811:

The roar I thught would leave us deaf if we lived.
It was not a storm.
When you could hear, all you cold hear was screams from people and animals.
It was the worst thing that I have ever wittnesed.
It was still dark and you could not see nothng.
You could not hold onto nothing neither man or woman was strong enough—
the shaking would knock you lose like knocking hicror nuts out of a tree.
We was all banged up and some of us knocked out for awile and blood was everywhere.
We still had our home it was some damage.
Some people that the home was not built to strong did not.
We will have to hunt our animals.
If this earth quake or what ever it was did not happen in the Territory of Indiana then me and my family is moving to Pigeon Roost.


*


Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.


*


Every church bell rang from St. Louis to Philadelphia. Dolley Madison, the first lady, was awoken by the tremor in the White House. Clocks stopped in Chicago. Chimneys slid from roofs in Cleveland. In Pittsburgh underground lights shone up from the chasms as deposits of quartz squeezed and sparked. The sun did not shine on America East of Nebraska for four days.


*


and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair


*


January 23rd, 1812:

What are we gonna do?
You cannot fight it cause you do not know how.
It is not something that you can see.
In a storm you can see the sky and it shows dark clouds and you know
that you might get strong winds but this you can not see anything
but a house that just lays in a pile on the ground - not scattered around
and trees that just falls over with the roots still on it.
The earth quake or what ever it is come again today.
It was as bad or worse than the one in December.
We lost our Amandy Jane in this one—a log fell on her.
We will bury her upon the hill under a clump of trees
where Bessy Ma and Pa is buried.
A lot of people thinks that the devil has come here.
Some thinks that this is the beginning of the world coming to a end.


*


I will spue thee out of my mouth.


*


The earthquake created the world’s largest sand boil, as a slurry of pressurized water and sand erupted volcanically, foundering the overlying sediment. Today, in the midst of farmland, 136 acres of sand remain in the Missouri Bootheel, about eight miles west of Hayti. Locals call it “The Beach.”


*


For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?


*


Febuary 8th, 1812:

If we do not get away from here the ground is going to eat us alive.
We had another one of them earth quakes yesterdy.
We are all about to go crazy—from pain and fright.
We can not do anything until we can find our animals or get some more.
We have not found enough to pull the wagons.


*


And the four beasts said, Amen.


*


The land undulated; chasms opened and swallowed horses and cows whole. Some fissures were as long as five miles. People discovered that most of the crevices opening ran from north to south, and when the earth began moving, they would quickly chop down trees in an east-west direction and hold on using the tree as a bridge. There were missing people who most likely fell untold stories underground.


*


If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief


*


March 20th, 1812:

I do not know if our minds have got bad or what.
But everybody says it.


*


and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.







Said Gun Consults the I Ching

The field is a safe place in the dark. The challenge of your life will continue to confound you but for now you have found a place with a cool breeze and fireweed and apartness. You have survived the horror of hearing from each of your seven voices and now you are ready to enter the next stage, which is the future.

It is said of the milk snake that it mimics the coral snake in order to deter predators. This is the symbol of a man who has convinced himself he is loathsome and evil. He wants to shed his shadow and have it hung and dried for children to pet and study.

Nine in the third place means:
The milk snake is about to exit the field into short grass.
The man returns to the house of his father.
The woman cannot escape the sick boat of her body.
Lamentations.
One is emboldened to fight the shitty children inside of him.

The short grass is scorched and dangerous for the milk snake. If it goes there it will be exposed and devoured. This is detrimental to completing its journey.

It is the same for the man. If he goes abroad searching for a new self, he will miss the self in the barn, or in the cellar, or in his own bed. If he forces himself to leave the wilderness that has smuggled his wretchedness inside of its blossoms and thickets he will become a traitor to himself. Do not try to become anything other than a unique oddity produced by one’s landscape, like the white squirrel.

Six in the fourth place means:
The milk snake finds its home in wild carrots.
Perhaps it will sleep through its transformation. No blame.







—black frost plenty: A Primer for Farmwives

He left and gone.


*


Wove some. Mr. A. ploughing and took the head ache very hard, cool and fair. Not well.


*


As soon as the children’s feet hit the floor, scrub them with lye soap so they will smell of it all day and everyone will know how clean a family you keep.


*


I came home rode the horse. Very lonesome and in much trouble, want to hear from Father.


*


Send the children aged at least five years out to the train tracks to collect lumps of spilled coal dropped by the B&O to burn in the stove. Burning coal means you can sleep through the night with no fire tending.


*


I was very sick with sick stomache and misary though me.


*


Put a dab of turpentine on your tongue to ward off germs.


*


Worked some on papas plants, Hosea came down, planted some wine seed.


*


Keep your milk and butter in a wooden box with holes screwed into it underwater in the creek to keep them from blinking.


*


Fair and hard the beautiful spring.


*


If he is not back by now, you will have to drag timber up from Leverett to Eastman’s to sell for flour or sugar.


*


Lucy Ann Rackly, James Rackly, Hiram Page came, cool and cloudy. Not very well. John Thomas walking.


*


Feed the hogs the worst you have.


*


Ellick died on the 8 of Dec—3 O’clock. A. M. Jan. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 & 16 clear & cold—17 Cloudy rainy—18 All powerful Snow Storm, wind high, desperate cold.


*


Milk the cows. Clean the udders with iodine. Rub bacon fat on your hands to reduce friction. Keep the bucket between your legs to stop the sow from kicking it over. Choose diagonal teats and work until deflated.


*


A had hard head ache all night. Some better, not much work of any kind.


*


The art of chopping wood is not in strength but in leverage. Let the weight of the axe do the work. Lift it high above your head and guide where it falls. Cleave with the straightest grain. Done right, you only need so much power.


*


Do not read much, and the time is so rapidly going.


*


If he is not yet home by now, send a note to John Thomas via your restless black-haired boy to search the jails and threshing crews.


*


Prospect generally, is decidedly bad. But oh! The flower Garden.


*


At the end of the day, take the children down to the creek and wash the chiggers off of their bodies.


*


—black frost plenty.


*


He comes home.


*


Boil the lights very tender,


*


Cook no more than beans for him. You should have known he would come. Real disasters are not so predictable. Hear him out then go to your crewel. You are making a wilderness of vine and fern that has no foreseeable end.


*


lard it all over with narrow slips of middling,


*


There is water to pump, his shirts to rake across the flat rock. You try to read the stains to tell where he’s really been. Don’t bother. You are no oracle of lost days. The red could be a crushed mosquito, a puff of rouge. It doesn’t matter. Your one job is to clean everything. And everything is made primarily of dust.


*


and set the heart upright in the middle of the dish.




NOTES

In “The End of the Midwest,” the recollections of the New Madrid earthquake are from the journals of George Heinrich Crist. The italicized lines are from Revelations.

In “—black frost plenty,” the italicized lines are from the journals of Penelope Eliza Howard Alderman and The Virginia Housewife or Methodical Cook by Mary Randolph (Baltimore: Plaskitt, Fife & Co., 1838).




Andrew Grace’s manuscript-in-progress is titled The Last Will and Testament of Said Gun. Sections have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, New England Review, Poetry Daily, Gettysburg Review, The Journal, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. He teaches at Kenyon College.