Some people laughed at the gap in her teeth,
but the sound she made saying ordinary things
was like a sweet penny whistle on May Day
when, of all the boys, she picked me for a kiss.
Her daddy made moonshine among the birches,
moving it by night on milk trucks out of Edenville,
a crass and dangerous life for any man,
though he loved his baby girl like August rain.
One day we sat on the big front porch as
she scissored little paper hearts, and I watched
October breezes lift them from her palm. She smiled,
and I was abashed by the feeling in my throat.
I was a stray she dragged around while her daddy
looked askance. He shrugged in vague reproach
and fired rounds into a rusty car on blocks—
a sound like balloons popping in the January air.
In kite-wind March we raced downhill for the joy of it,
splashing through the snowmelt like thoroughbreds,
alive with the thrill of running. It was then I knew
the love of God, in her, willing one thing.
May Day came around again but she wasn’t there,
and rumors slid like hungry snakes across the playground.
I bolted through the woods to find burnt ruins, no sign
of them anywhere, the spring air bitter with smoke.
I collapsed among the birch trees, shuddering
and surprised by grief. No leaf stirred and no bird sang.
Awhile I lay, then looked toward clearing sky. In sun I saw,
pinned to the milky black-laced bark, a red paper heart.
-Thomas Alan Orr (Shelby County)
Thomas Alan Orr lives in rural Shelby County and works for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. His poetry has been featured in Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor, and other anthologies. He has published work recently in The Merton Seasonal and Flying Island and is completing a second book of poems titled Tongue to the Anvil.
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem from an Indiana poet every day in April (hand-selected by Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras). Check in daily to see who is featured next!