Saturday, March 27, 2004


by Mike O'Connell

The road is clearly marked Dead End,
A sign that seems to want to send

All manner of Illini through
To see if it is really true.

(The kind of curiosity
That sent Columbus out to sea.)

They reconsider further travel
When macadam turns to gravel.

“Is this as far as you can go?”
They holler out their car window.

I stroke my chin with “Let me see…”
And rehearse my geography.

“There was a time not too far back
A horse could take you up that track

To where you’d get a decent view
Down the mighty Kickapoo.

But those 200 under your hood
Back here won’t do you any good.

Now if you had on higher boots
You could cross this creek on foot

Or chase it down to those dark woods
Where it disappears for good.

I know it always seems a shame
To go back out the way you came

But sometimes that’s the only way—
Hudson settled for a bay.”

At least they learn from coming here
The world’s not flat, if that’s their fear.

The afternoon is getting late;
I point them towards the Interstate

Where there’s a sign in cream and green
That reads “Chicago 219.”


by Mike O'Connell

"It must be nice to have a little farm"
She said, and watched me at my work,
Careful not to muddy up her shoes,
But looking like she wouldn't really mind it.
We talked about some things that seemed to matter:
Life and music, mostly. Violin
Was what she played, or what she played the best.
She asked me did I play an instrument?
"I whistle when I milk the cows," I said.
She looked disappointed, but not much.
She said she could hear music in the fields.
(It must have been the crickets in my swamp.)
I said, "You'll have to stay a little while,"
But as I turned to start another row
She turned, or something turned her, towards the West,
And when I looked up she was riding on
A rainbow I was on the wrong end of.

I shouldn't say I miss her. You don't miss
A stranger that you only met one day
Across a fence the early part of June,
Even a beautiful one. You can't expect
A girl to stand and watch you plow your fields
When there are rainbows to go riding on.
But always I'll remember how she said it -
The hills behind her glistened as she said it:
"It must be nice to have a little farm."

“A Farm and a Rainbow” appeared previously in Rt. 4 Baraboo, reprinted by permission of the poet. “Flatlanders” is part of a yet-to-be-published collection called Man of Parts. In 1993, after a quarter century of working the clay knolls in the shadow of the Baraboo Bluffs in southwestern Wisconsin, O’Connell lost his health and his dairy herd, and he turned to poetry that came to deal with the struggle for survival in a land no less beautiful for its heartbreaks. O’Connell’s books of poems, Rt. 4 Baraboo and My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It, are available from Hugger Mugger Publishing, E10469 Sunset Road, Baraboo WI 53913. O’Connell will be the featured speaker at the Wisconsin Flying Farmers annual meeting in Sparta April 25, 2004.


I'm interested in considering your "poems of place" for publication in The Middlewesterner's "Saturday's Poem" feature; send two or three of your best in the body of an e-mail addressed to . Put "Saturday's Poem" in the subject line. Then be patient. I will get back to you about whether I'll use your work or not. Send along a short biographical note and information about where your books can be purchased and I'll include that when your poem runs. There's no payment involved for having your work appear in "Saturday's Poem," but the feature is seen by some high class readers. About sixteen of them, by our current count.


MARCH 20, 1998

Armored with optimism, we step out to face the new day. It should be like starting with a blank slate, but soon old scores come 'round to be settled, new troubles rear their heads, and soon even the brightest, bluest sky would be the kind of grey sludge we have overhead this morning. You take your weapon out of the holster, do what you have to.

It is supposed to be spring, but that we had in February. Instead we now have another taste of the winter that never really came this year. Not so bad today as yesterday, but not spring either. At least there is nothing to scrape from the windshield. And - somewhere - there are birds talking, likely complaining about the weather like the rest of us.

I think of a friend, this morning, who has finished her schooling but cannot find a job. There is that kind of chill to the day. To the northwest, perhaps a break in the clouds. Perhaps a job opportunity in her field for our friend. The sun tries to break through the overcast. Friends are those who pray for you even before you ask.

There is a sheen of glaze to the snow in the fields, as if a little sun and wind have smoothed the whiteness. The right hand of winter is light sometimes, is heavy other times; is tender, is tough; is sweet, is angry.


Waking in another place, and rising, is not the same as waking and rising at home. So stated, the fact is obvious; but how so, the differences?

This morning I am in Minneapolis, not in Fairwater. I find my orientation to the morning light is different than at home. The light here falls on my face rather than coming from behind. The light here is moderated by blinds, rather than by curtains as at home. The light is a little lower at the same time of morning.

I have been sleeping in a strange bed, of course, and I was also sleeping on the wrong side of the bed; and sleeping on my right side, I was facing into my wife rather than facing away from her as at home.

The sounds of the house as I rise are not the sounds of my house - a different refrigerator, a different cat, a different toilet, different traffic. These are sounds I have cataloged as morning sounds in my world, but they are a half a click from being accurate.

The floor here is carpeted instead of finished wood as in our bedroom at home.

I cannot find coffee this morning, in this house, and so I am drinking hot tea.

As at home, these early morning hours I have made my own are quiet, lit palely, comfortable like a blanket. I am writing at the kitchen table here, not at my work space at home with familiar materials nearby.

How is it the same, the waking? I woke on my own here, as I usually do at home. I woke about 5:30 a.m. today as is often the case in Fairwater. Here and there - the regular sound of my wife's breathing, that steady engine pumping air. In both places, I wake with the desire to write, or to read. This morning, I am making these notes; at home I would be working on journal or book.

Out the window, a very light, very, very light dusting of snow. I wonder if it snowed at home.

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