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.