Jeff Burt

In Honor of Big-Bellied Men

The shotgun flap of the large gray noodle of belt
running the generator punctuated the loud hum
of the engine itself, and the conveyor spun

its elongated oval dumping grist at one end,
conveying shucked pig corn on the other,
the chaff and the pixie dust dancing above it

in the spotlights the missing knots in the walls allowed.
Greetings were yelled by men with bibs
and muscular bellies broad and protruding,

the right gut for pushing a fence into place
or containing a cow bent on leaving the barn
spooked by a rat covered by feed,

bellies that could take the sweaty head of a boy
or girl at twilight when the bats swooped in
and give them comfort, secure the world,

bellies that could hold a baby without a lap,
that pushed hay and milk and bushels of beets
out into a dangerous and starving world.

The Waste Water of Tears

When the author said plumb the soul
I wondered if she meant a one-inch pipe
to carry away the waste water of tears
and anguish, with a P-trap to prevent
the odors of despair from washing back,
lost loves left lost, loved ones and their lack
of love prevented from penetrating the air,
the right to tighten, the left to loosen,
the left to lose, the left in loss,
or perhaps she meant a fresh delivery,
a supply line with an oval-shaped handle
to control the speed of the flow so the soul
could pace itself, as when young love
comes with such high velocities that sex seems
the only plausible outcome, or a valve handle
that could handle even shutting off the flow,
as when one must face the other way
or faint when looking at the loved one’s face.

But perhaps she meant plum the soul,
add a darkling magenta to the mix of it,
dramatic coloration because the soul had paled
like an old washcloth sky void of vibrant color,
add a drippy sweetness, exaggeration,
flamboyance to the drab taste the tongue
had come to know over so many years,
a pit to spit back into the furtive ivy,
a chunk of fruity flesh in the cheek that lips
could not appreciate with the smack of words.

But perhaps she meant plumb the soul
like a carpenter might, snapping a line
of purple chalk like a royal marker
to keep straight what could easily bow
or bend and lead to unsure footing,
the simple lighted guide that marks
the way for each successive board
to stay aligned with all other boards,
that leads each nail to conform
with every other nail, patterned,
repetitious, sturdy, enduring,
the way a long love between two souls
begins in the morning with kind thoughts
of each other and persists in the absence
of the other and then coalesces at evening
when the last one enters through the door
and the familiar kiss rings like a new bell.

But perhaps she meant plumb the soul
as to true it, not in the manner of right or wrong,
but to bring the soul into form
and energy as is most necessary for the soul,
bound to be unbound, taut to be free,
excessive, expanding, flowing,
the stuff of creation, a circumscription
without criticism or plumber’s putty or lag space
between boards or plums rubbed free
from wax, plucked, sucked, gulped,
trued to both lust and languor,
fevered want, and the cold hard withdrawal
that life teaches from the death of love.

There is Nothing, Except

When feet have acknowledged,
         dust and mud as perpetual coat,
have accepted cutting through the muck field
         to reach the gravel road
to shortcut home, when hands
         have found their way out of pockets
and swung for the first time besides the hips
         and shoulders stopped hunching
from the heat the head can no longer carry,

         you will wash, you will wade
in the water freed from your clothes
         and rinse the dirt that has held you
and scrub off the mud that has bound,
         you will say goodbye to the earth
that has grown you, will know
         there is nothing except this perpetual
washing of Whitewater Creek, immersion,
         the rising wet and perfected.

Author Portrait

Jeff Burt grew up in Wisconsin, was tempered in Texas and Nebraska, and found a home in California, though the landscapes of the Midwest still populate much of his writing. He has works published or forthcoming in Clerestory, Agave, The Nervous Breakdown, Eclectica, Amarillo Bay, and Storm Cellar. He won the 2011 SuRaa Fiction Award and was nominated for a Best of the Net Award.