'He was down to nothing, a gypsy’s fare'

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BJ Omanson was raised near the Spoon River in Illinois, site of Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, and he has compiled a fine book of poems in Masters’ tradition called Stark County Poems, published by Monongahela Books. Most of them are too long for this column, but here’s one that I like very much that fits our format.



by BJ Omanson 


When they sold off the farm she took the child
and caught a bus out of town — as for him,
with everyone gone and everything grim,
he opened a pint of bourbon, piled

pictures, letters and clothes in the yard,
doused them with kerosene, struck a match
and watched as they burnt to ashes, watched
and worked on his whiskey, working hard.

The next morning he caught an outbound freight
heading god-knows-where and he didn’t care —
he was down to nothing, a gypsy’s fare —
down to a rusty tin cup and a plate,

dice and a bible, a bedroll and fate,
down to a bone-jarring ride on a train
through country dying and desperate for rain,
running nowhere to nowhere and running late.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by BJ Omanson, 'Nowhere to Nowhere,' from Stark County Poems (Monongahela Books, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of BJ Omanson and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2020 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-06.



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