Greg Field is an artist, writer, drummer, sailor, chemist, computer geek, and network administrator. His poems appear in many journals and anthologies, including New Letters, Laurel Review, Karamu, Chouteau Review, and Kansas City Outloud II. His book of poems The Longest Breath (Mid-America Press) was a Thorpe Menn Finalist, and his chapbook End of This Set is from BkMk. He has degrees in painting from the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Missouri Kansas City. He was an elementary art teacher for thirteen years. His paintings are in private collections all over the country. He plays percussion in River Cow Orchestra, an improvisational jazz band.
Excerpted from Black Heart
© Greg Field 2014
The Story I Tell You
I want to read something to you, because
I love you. Through the window I see
the roofs and cooling units and the useless
chimneys clogged with dead birds.
But I want to read something to you, because
I love you. So I read you the window’s story.
I read you the story I see across the glass
and tar paper roofs. The story of the old man
opening the pigeon coop, reaching in slowly
and bringing out a delicate bird
with strong markings, cradled like a heart
just removed from a young, impetuous donor,
and releasing it into the ever expanding sky.
My father taught me how to track and stalk.
He said, “Walk quiet in the woods
like your grandfather’s ghost.”
He had two fathers and neither was a ghost.
My grandmother said that each
was the greater of two evils.
She said this with her eyes, not with her words.
She told me one grandfather was pure Potawatomi
and the other was the pure antidote.
She said this on her deathbed.
My father said, “Walk quiet in the woods
like your grandfather’s ghost.
You can sneak up on a white man
and slit his throat.”
He laughed in the cold duck blind
and pulled two gulps of whiskey.
That night, I looked in the mirror and saw
I was white as the bathroom light.
I followed the smooth line
of my throat where it pulsed
with the words of ghosts.
My grandmother and grandfather,
Coffeyville, Kansas, 1943
The southeast Kansas winter
and northeast Oklahoma winter
are cold, stillborn twins
laid out in frilly white shrouds.
He crosses over easily
into the town where
the Clantons were shot.
He’s an excellent pilot.
He navigates the icy streets
for as long as it takes
to woo the white girl
with the long brunette hair,
to gently lay her down
on the trunk of his Ford.
People hold their tongues
with their mottled teeth.
They let him pass
and winter passes away
a full nine months.
About the growing belly
they set their tongues loose.
The trip into town
for flour and sugar
spoils the bread.
The wedding poisons the well.
He ships out to fly fighters.
Soon she carries a sister
for her son.
She learns the border
is redrawn, a blood red line
across a farm road.
The pilot returns a hero,
in some other city.
His medals and commendations
never reflect the woman
or the two half-breed kids,
never mention “Potawatomi.”
Medals arrive in a box wrapped
in paper the color of their skin.
She gets the news and marries
a sailor far away from the sea.