I Want to Know You All

I was listening to this sort of ignorant blowhard

go on about how teaching is a dumb profession

and I did this thing I always do, which is feel smug

about how smart and sophisticated I am, but

my smugness is a little compromised lately

by how I do almost nothing all day besides have

an affair in my mind and then wring my brain

over what a divorce would do to my daughter,

who heretofore has been lucky to have a happy,

close family, not even too far off from how we

pretend to be in public. So I just kept listening

without my hackles up so much and also was

bemused about how alike we all are, admiring

some people, judging others, thinking we’re so

special, and this guy had some good stories.

One time a history professor in college told him

to go hang himself after he wrote 500 words

about pheasants in the French Revolution.

He said he must have mentioned those fired up

and pitchfork-wielding pheasants a dozen times

in that paper. That exasperated historian screaming

peasants in the margins always reminded him

of his dad, who does probate, which is basically

a ton of archival research into plat maps and deeds,

birth certificates and death wishes. There are no

secrets when someone contests a will. His dad

once told him, “You wouldn’t believe the number

of cross-dressing farmers there are in Missouri”

which made me laugh at first at the hypocrisy

of this place, but then realize it’s actually tragic

how alone those farmers must feel. It’s ruthless

out here, I know. All the longing we till under

and to let such a secret slip—probate means some

cousin or sister or brother described the dress

in front of a judge who considered it fit evidence

against a claim. I laughed because I can’t imagine

who you are—the man in coveralls who mocks

the foamy fern I like poured onto my latte,

the one who calls me “hon” that condescending

way? Could you be the man always with the sign

in front of my doctor’s office or the neighbor

who mows the waysides of our country road

down to stubble? Maybe you don’t come to town

if you can help it anymore either. I want you

to know, whoever you are, as someone hungry

for variety in the human condition, most especially

my own, cross-dressing farmers, you light up

the fields for me. I hope you walk into those

soybean rows some nights and your flowered skirt

swishes your legs in a way that feels like falling

in love when you didn’t think you ever could,

or maybe you feel rooted, belonging to this soil

that made you. I don’t know what’s better, but

I want for you such happiness and every last acre

your bigot of a father left behind to go with it.

Kathryn Nuernberger

Kathryn Nuernberger is the author of two poetry collections, The End of Pink and Rag & Bone. A collection of lyric essays, Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past, is forthcoming from OSU Press in 2017. Recent work appears in 32 Poems, Copper Nickel, Crazyhorse, Field, and Tupelo Quarterly. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at University of Central Missouri, where she serves as the director of Pleiades Press.