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American Life in Poetry

Those of us who live on the arid Great Plains love to hear rain on the roof. Not hail, but rain. William Jolliff, a poet from Western Oregon, where it rains often, has done a fine job here of capturing that sound.

Rain on a Barn South of Tawas

It may be as close as an old man in Michigan

comes to the sound of the sea. Call it thunder

if you want, but it’s not thunder, not at all.

It’s more like the rush of semis on a freeway

somewhere between Bay City and Flint,

the road a son will take when he learns,

sometime around the last taste of a strap,

that the life he was born to is nothing

at all like a life he’d ever bother to live.

There’s an anger in it, a tin-edged constancy

that has no rhythm, quite, something more

like white noise that still won’t let you sleep.

Think of some man, needing to get a crop in,

but the fields are sop, so he’s trying to find

something to fix, something to keep his hands

working, something to weld, something to  pound,

something to wrap his calloused palms around

that might do less damage than a lead-rope

knotted and tossed over the limb of a tree.

If you ever decide to lose your years

by working this land, you might think again,

about the barn you build, or roofing it with tin.

Poem copyright 2012 by William Jolliff from Blue Collar Review, (Winter 2012-13), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.