Friday, October 17, 2014






                          “ …that which we call a rose

       By any other name would smell as sweet.”


                       Romeo and Juliet, Act II, sc.1

There were lots of wild plum trees in the fencerows,

and when they bloomed, they put out a sweet smell

and there are lilacs on almost every farm; in fact,

that big hedgerow over by you has been there forever.

And in the springtime the aroma of the apple trees.

When the white blossoms of the honey locusts

come in, they are pretty to look at, and fragrant, too,

but people think of them as nothing more than weeds.

And this time of the year everybody’s spreading manure

or now its maybe emptying the pit. It smells like liquid gold

because commercial fertilizer costs so much.

The rain itself has a really great smell that I’m sure

is different in different places. But one of the nicest smells

of course, is hay, that’s new cut, alfalfa, and then if

its conditioned, crinkled a bit, the smell of hay when its

dry and ready to bale—or a load of hay in the barn

if it isn’t heating, a load that’s dried and stored.

With good silage I have to pick it up and smell it

because it’s so good. If you are filling silo, a lot

of the silage spills out the side and if you don’t

clean it up and it rains overnight and then it gets

hot and muggy and starts molding—that’s a whole

nuther smell, a bad one, like rancid butter

but one you’d recognize right away. When you

get it on your clothes, it won’t come off. Both our

families were German—we made silage the same way

we made sauerkraut. Dairy farmers back east made it

from green corn fodder and it caught on out here.

There’s the smell of the dairy barn, summer or winter.

We used to milk by hand so you smelled the milk

in the pail and that had a very nice vapor to it.

Even the cows, their breaths can be bad or

it can be pretty good if they are happy—so

a contented barn has its own certain smell, too.

After the cows go out in the pasture, the manure

is loose, it’s very fresh, distinctive, mixed with

the grass, and they’re crushing the grass, and

lying on it, so when the cows are pasturing

there’s a tremendous number of smells that

would trigger your memories of this place.

We used to have hives up here, and when

it was hot, the bees would be fanning.

I’d move in close and the action of their wings

would waft the smell of honey from the boxes.

There are still some wild plums down in the woods

but very few. They used to be kind of thick

in the fencerows --our neighbor, George,

instead of cleaning out the fencerow

he’d just move the fence in a little more

so it came to be about 16 feet wide.

So we had to cut that back. We must have

grubbed out all the plums when I was

in high school, which was bad for the birds

but simplified things. That’s where all the plums were.

We did save a few, transplanted here in the yard

so I can still breathe in their scent, taste that tart jam.

Thanks to Bob Redig                                                                                 8/25/14


Diet For The Smallest Planet

  Ken McCullough. Diet For The Smallest Planet. In three-color fold out performance. 
 Foldout booklet. $10 postpaid from Longhouse. 

Ken McCullough was born in Staten Island, N.Y., but spent his formative years in St. John’s, Newfoundland. More recently, he has drawn inspiration from the mountains of Montana and Wyoming and the blufflands of the Upper Mississippi. In 1992 he was adopted into the Miniconjou band of the Lakota Nation. He is a graduate of St. Andrew’s School, the setting for Dead Poets Society, and has degrees from the University of Delaware and the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa.

McCullough’s most recent books of poetry are Walking Backwards, Sicomoro.Oropéndola (published in Colombia), and Broken Gates, as well as a book of stories, Left Hand. He has received numerous awards for his poetry. McCullough has worked closely with Cambodian poet U Sam Oeur, survivor of the Pol Pot regime; they have published Sacred Vows, a bilingual edition of U’s poetry, and Crossing Three Wildernesses, a memoir. McCullough has two sons, Galway and Orion. He lives on a farm outside Winona, MN with his wife, Lynn Nankivil, a playwright. In 2014, McCullough will start his second term as Poet Laureate of Winona.