There Are Drafts You Cannot Dodge
Until I met him I’d never heard of the
thousand yard stare, I was that young,
that new to the country. He was just
a guy with a backpack and a slick of hair,
quick to grudges, a guy who said he had secrets
but we couldn’t see them. He came to our parties
in worn wooden houses high above rivers,
woods thick behind us, and held his own
right through the night, he slipped with us
naked into moonshine water and riffed
as good as the best. I liked his body enough,
the pale underside of his dolphin flanks,
but his feet were a worry, heavy and splayed
as if each step was a stamp, reluctant to dance.
Not that it mattered in those days, when there
was time to make terrible mistakes, and we
were high by Friday and would laugh at pretty
much anything. He said he was tracked and traced
and once punched a man for raising a camera
to his face and then threw the camera in the lake.
That’s how they get you, he said, and no,
you’re not to ask why. It wasn’t till later when
I first tasted cold, the American cold that braces
and burns nose and fingers and eyes, that I saw
that the whispers of threats and the thin-rolled
joints were only for me, the whole show was all
just for me, I was pinned like a butterfly at the
end of a thousand yard stare, my eyes peering
out from the edge of a deep winter quilt,
my eyes which were open, and blue.
The Harvest Queen
What held you all summer in thrall
that you never saw pollen blow past,
the garden fruit swollen to blousy flesh,
birds unravelled in the wind of migration?
Why did you wait till night
had dragged the heart out of August
before making the first rough cut?
Now you must work with a scythe
and a sack, a rag of blue to the west,
nobody to touch your sleeping hand
on the pillow. Now you’re old
the way farmers grow old: indefatigable,
then defeated. Frost blackens
the sweet-corn ears, weeds sprout higher
than wheat, everything bent with growth.
You kneel in the spring-dug furrows,
digging through roots along the fence-line.
Cold smacks your ears. I’m telling you
what all women know, that when you walk
out of hell you must never look back.
Don’t turn for whatever might follow you
yet, there’s no daughter tethered
to your belt, only this song from
a harvest queen on the high-grained path,
cradling an armful of unspent gold.
When I finally completed my debut novel, I felt freed up to return at last to poetry. The Harvest Queen was the first poem I wrote after many years of prose, and There Are Drafts You Cannot Dodge is the most recent. I am thrilled that they will appear together, and hope that they show some of the ways in which I’m seeking greater courage and a stronger voice through poetry.
Elizabeth Loudon’s fiction and memoir have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, INTRO, Denver Quarterly, and North American Review, and her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in the South Florida Poetry Journal, Lily Poetry Review, Blue Mountain Review, and Trampset. Her debut novel, A Stranger in Baghdad, will be published in spring 2023 by Hoopoe Fiction.
She has an MA in English from Cambridge University and an MFA in Fiction from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and taught English at Amherst, Smith, and Williams Colleges. She then worked for many years as a campaign strategist and writer for NGOs and Universities. She now divides her time between London and Gloucestershire in the UK.