about the author

Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems, Urban Farmhouse Press) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Southern Humanities Review, Hobart, Recommended Reading, and elsewhere. He resides in Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture. Tweets @WorderFarmer.

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One Poem  

Marvin Shackelford


I stopped speaking. Words
grew cumbersome. My parents grew

cucumbers, beans, tomatoes
in rows shrouded by black plastic.

I took off my shoes,
worked red clay between my toes.

The hired hand backed the tractor
over our blind old English

shepherd. I pointed
but offered only sad code

stripped to fingers.
I made a handful of language

all my own. Specialists
promised I wasn’t retarded—

but that panel’s still being run,
my father jokes. Ha. Ha. He

decided, once they started
returning words to me,

I should name all the new calves.
Small, failed Adam in the barn lot.

Soon we had a season
of Radar, Stall, Suitcase,

Bedpost, Green, Fall Guy.
They let me carry words

hand to mouth and back
like sticky candy

made a mess. But enjoyed.
Suitcase I remember.

He turned into a decent bull,
and I tried making sense

of that name for so long
after: He suits the case,

every case, he’s that good.
Best I could do.

I followed him through years
and fields, the mottled

red and white and folds of Brahma
skin sagging from his throat,

and my words never loosened
enough again to understand

my meaning of him. He never
sired a bull calf worth a damn.

He aged to disappearance
on a trailer. I aged

to memory. Distinction
deep in the weeds. I sounded

for the words. Sounded
them out. Which I needed

to know this, much
less say it.

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