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Michael Simms: American Ash (text and video)

Running time: 4 minutes. Email subscribers may click on the title of this post to watch Michael Simms reading the poem American Ash.
Here is the title poem from my collection of poems American Ash (Ragged Sky, 2020).


American Ash

The Veteran
Beside the barn a huge stack
of logs cut and split with imperfect 
symmetry and Howard his
bald head like a bullet is
in his undershirt 
                Marine tattoos 
on his bulging biceps and I 
remember things he’s told me 
about the Nam and the drugs 
and living on the street and finally
Meeting Suzanne who loved him 
whole again. They moved here
to raise horses which healed him 
until Suzanne passed from cancer
and he wept in my arms like a baby
and started drinking again 


Invasive Species

Howard says back up your truck 
we’ll load er up     
Ash? I ask 
having seen the stumps
beside the road    
Yeah he says 
You know it’s against the law
to haul firewood cross 
county lines don’t you but
it don’t matter no more 
with ash wood
They’re all dead now anyways 

Emerald ash borers
Howard says
they come from Asia about 
thirty years ago and now
they pretty much killed every ash
in the east a shame he says
I offer to pay him for the firewood
but he ignores me and we load
half a ton in the back of my truck
and stand there a minute or two
resting and I think 
They must have looked 
like old men, the ash trees
dry and gray and brittle 
death spreading from one tree 
to another down the road
Abandoned Tractor

Howard is looking at his forty
acre spread where he grew
corn and soy and horses 
It's mostly scrub now

He kept the mule
that reminds him of him
and a few of the horses 
too old to sell

He hasn’t the heart 
to kill them
The soil he and Suzanne worked 
is fallow, choked
with weeds and the smell
of failure 

Old warriors rarely 
say anything about 
people they killed or
horrors they saw instead
they talk about the fun stuff
of war the killer weed and 
the mama-san they spent 
a weekend with 
           Or maybe
the strange feeling of stepping
off the plane in Dulles
having misplaced their lives 
and now living someone else’s
Once when he was drinking
Howard told me how he watched 
seventeen Vietnamese children
mistakenly machine gunned 
By our own choppers and Howard
and his buddies were ordered
to pile the bodies
pour gasoline over them 
and light them on fire 
And I thought Holy Jesus
these men we send to do 
unspeakable crimes 
in our name
Bury that shit real deep 
where no one can ever find it

Michael Simms is the editor of Vox Populi. His books include American Ash (Ragged Sky 2020)

Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

Million of ash trees have been cut down across North America in recent years because of an invasion by the emerald ash borer. (photo: Sarnia-Lambton Independent)

10 comments on “Michael Simms: American Ash (text and video)

  1. Rose Mary Boehm
    April 25, 2021

    having misplaced their lives
    and now living someone else’s

    Thank for those poems. They linger.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. allisonfine
    April 25, 2021

    Thank you so much Michael. On a gloomy, cold Sunday in Chicago this really helped me and touched me deeply.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Audrey Kalman
    April 24, 2021

    I love this collection. It’s one of my go-tos for morning poetry reading (before I write).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. gdrew2013
    April 24, 2021

    Loved your reading of Ash, Michael! That gravelly quality of your voiceis a perfect fit—the perfect instrument to wring the music out of yourexperience. George


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Barbara Huntington
    April 24, 2021

    A powerful poem and one that sadly often defines my generation.

    Liked by 1 person

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