Two Poems

Lowell Jaeger

Photo Credit: Carol Von Canon/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Photo Credit: Carol Von Canon/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)


Sturdy boys in overalls who’d risen early
to help with milking and mucking the barn…
their sisters who’d lit the stove before sunup,
baked biscuits and fried ham for farmer-fathers,
for hungry brothers, and for the hired hands…
Hicks, we called them. Crud-muckers. Hayseeds.

Loads of them herded on yellow buses.
Cow-eyed kids, grazing half-awake
through droning hours of penmanship.
Kids accustomed to manhandling machines,
plowing and disking rocky acres clean.
Cutting and baling hay. Bare wrists
freckled with scratches and scabs, shoulders
muscled lean. All this while the rest of us

ruled the playground and still pedaled Schwinns.
Help your little brother scrape all that dirt off his shoes,
Miss Kaiser commanded on the steps of our school.
That ain’t dirt, Ma’am, said older brother.
That’s good rich manure. Couldn’t help but note
that boy’s grownup face. Us town kids could brag
we’d seen the butcher hack up a side of steaks.
But couldn’t guess how cows happened in the first place.


Casket Flag

Worried her sleepless all night,
composing her class presentation:
The Proper Method to Fold the Flag.

Aching to demonstrate for us
what’s right, what’s proper…
Clutching the folded flag
close to her chest, her neck
crimson, she inhales, braces herself,
swallows hard, looks us in the eye.

After a military burial,
she begins, they fold the flag
a certain way.
She goes blank, then clears her throat.
And it’s given to the family.
Now she makes busy unfolding

and folding, explaining
step by step. The importance
of military decorum. The meaning
of her brother’s citations. Her

big brother. Only brother.
And she’s deadly serious
about letting neither stars nor stripes
touch the ground.
Never, she says, never.

pencilAs founding editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. His fifth collection of poems, How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past, was published by Grayson Books in 2013. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse. Email: ljaegermontana[at]