"Kathy's Apron," by Christopher Raley

The roads of Illinois are like the lines on Kathy's apron, straight but for gentle swells of land,

burnt like seared iron edges into the thicker fabric

of green forests and bending corn fields

all heavy in the heat.


Kathy works what she has worked,

rolling and cutting her world to existence.

The stove's continual heat keeps sweat on her cheek

that bonds the straying strands of fading dust brown hair to skin.

Sometimes she thinks the porch relief

and steps out to between the sheet of land and blanket of sky.

She toys with the hem of her apron,

but swears the roads she sees are so long

they can bear you forever.


Most nights I drink at Charlie’s.

He sits at the bar, and don’t think I haven’t seen him.

His reflection behind the bottles stares out at him.

At first he tried to look away, but it followed him like a gossip.

Now he listens with elbows on the grimy wood

and earth blackened hand holding up his tired forehead.

One night I was drunk enough to care

and heard it ask him about the fields,

the crop, the hell of not making it

again and again.

I swayed standing and wanted to tell him

his wife comes out on the porch and watches for a chance to leave.

I could see myself on that stool living the life of worn out jeans and dirty flannel.

God help me.


In Illinois the wind rides up the bellies of thunder clouds,

pushes through trees and shakes them into frenzied life.

It’s all fury and strain until the thunder comes and shatters into rain.

The struggles fades and the summer smothers everything.


I can only chose what I’m given.

Anything can fill me up, blow right through me and leave me vacant again.

The porch is empty.

I don’t see him at Charlie’s anymore,

and some nights I pray they’re gone as far west as the coast.

God help my beggar soul if Kathy ever looked into the field

and saw me watching, hands buried in the dirt, waiting.