Joseph O’Brien

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Joseph O’Brien lives on a homestead with his wife Cecilia and their nine children in rural Soldiers Grove, WI. He is Managing Editor of Adoremus Bulletin, a correspondent for the Catholic Business journal, and Poetry Editor and cocktail reviewer for The San Diego Reader. He also teaches at Viterbo University, La Crosse, WI. His poems have appeared in such publications as The Kickapoo Free Press, Lyric, America, Dappled Things and Chronicles.



Poking out like smooth white mushroom caps
From your cockle-burred skirt, your knees plant you
Firmly in springtime’s grass-roots government.
You kneel in still-yellow grass, the winter-
Scrapped works of last year’s garden growth, waiting
For soil to reveal its green agenda.

After poring over gardening magazines
And seed catalogs, Sweet Joe Pie Plant, Joystick,
Roman Shield, Love-Lies-Bleeding, Pygmy Torch,
Soulmate… – flower names part your petaled lips
As if fleshing out beauty’s sacred laws.
You chant them, reclaim them, spade to groundwork.

For spring turns root of commandment under
Fruit of prayer; –and for you, it has always been
A pure thrill to just sit and name like Eve did
On her first look through Eden’s glossy pages
Where her blooms born from soil’s soft crevasses
Laid the patient groundwork for eternity.


Water and Feed

Your day’s a narrow dooryard path
Out through the weary slant
Of outhouses, woodsheds and barns –
All paint-flacked with their boards
Flayed by sunlight, brown as leather.

Past dusty corners – you count coils
Of chicken wire, souls in waiting,
Denuded of body, rusting
Carefully, held in tension,
Awaiting final capture.

You climb the hill, its pump
Pondering water’s depth –
All its sweetness at hand
In your chewed knuckles,
The bloody cud of fieldwork.

(As fence and post command,
You drag the sweat and doubt
Of God behind a tractor.
By the acre you ask Him;
By the bushel He replies.)

You stop to note how weather
Burns away to autumn,
Giving evening early marks –
And you out there in time
For glory time: The first leaves.

Beneath your feet you feel
A flood, cavernous and sleepy,
Hint at coming hibernations.
On the swayed horizon, grain
Commits to a deeper soil.

The liturgy of your hours
Ends with the strong scent of piss
And sour hay. In diagonals
Of dust-cobbed light, the cowshed
Grins with capacious maw.

And knee-locked, livestock
Stand their ground with eyes purled
Like rock candy, eager for
The tinny slap and sloughing ring
To once more bless their empty troughs.


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