J. T. Ledbetter

I Would Tell You Now

​The yellow hat you wore is still on the peg
in the summer house I built for your potting.
The blue bowl you left in the upper garden
belongs to the cat now. Next spring I’ll plant
whatever you have jotted down on the post,
and I’ll make sure the cat is in at night
before the foxes come from their fern-dark holes
in Turley’s Woods. Your cousin Rose from Cincinnati
made a list of things to keep me busy before she went back
to Tennessee. I don’t know how that works either,
calling her Rose from Cincinnati. The man with her calls
himself the Rev. Fimbarrus Nobs. I’ll just leave it at that.
Too many facts get in my way at night when I’m trying
to see your face through the bougainvillea brushing against
our window. I won’t stop trying, and it won’t stop brushing.
It’s just the kind of thing that would make you lift your head
up from digging to explain once again how the world works.It has been a long time since I left you sitting in the pool
of your shadow, your dress spread to catch the falling leaves,
immortal in their mortal splendor, and I remember asking
if heaven was already spreading to catch us in the moment
of our flaming out and our blossoming, or if it was only our
voice in the silence, frightened, expecting nothing—​
and how you raised your head and looked at me. I could not tell
you that it was just the lifting of your head under that damned
yellow hat I waited for, the rose smoke of autumn in your eyes.
I should have told you then. I would tell you now.

J. T. Ledbetter: My poetry is often about people on small farms who have lost the ability or inclination to talk to each other, having been beaten down by harsh weather, poor crops, and that strange farm silence that covers land and people like a second skin. These memories have left scars that resist stretching but continue to inform my work. My time in Nebraska for graduate school gave me the prairie and quiet people on their weather-beaten farms and reinforced my memories of my birth-home in Southern Illinois for my poems, poems John Van Doren has called, “a report of a vanishing world that was always achingly inarticulate and therefore of violent heart.” But no one lives or writes alone, and among those writers who have influenced my work are William Faulkner, Robert Frost, and Thomas Merton—but it was Mark Van Doren who gave me an early boost with his encouragement. I still find his poems, stories and criticism fresh and powerful.