Joan Colby

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In the desolate graveyard
Of the Cox’s Creek Baptist Church,
A stone brackets Isaac Taylor’s bones
His name barely legible.
He came into Nelson County
After the Revolution, ready to preach,
To ride a circuit with his wife behind him.
This is the earth he strode
And planted with tobacco and hellfire sermons.

Unmarked graves.
The unaccounted for war dead
Blown to bits or sunk with ships.
In Oahu, a wall with the name
Of my cousin Pat and his shipmates
On the Kamikazed Franklin.
Schools of fish nibbled their eyes.

I want a headstone
With the name I was given.
I want my body to bloat and shrink
Until the skeleton
Grins in the soil.


Kill one thing and there’s no justice.Artwork by Gene McCormick
The Jain’s mask saves the gnat.
The butterfly abolishes nothing,
Drinks the sweet or bitter.
The grazer learns to flee.

Opportunist, if the meat
Is wrapped in plastic,
It is no less bloody. The thing that died
Wanted its life as we do,
As the woman opening the door
So the police could subdue her son
Threatening his father, died
And now you learn who not to phone,
As the deer must learn not to heed
The false doe calling from the deer stand,
As the slapped girl must learn
Not to speak of her mother’s brisk hand
If she wants to live in the house of strict love.

The way goodness is a dissemblance
Of bear traps and boulders,
Avalanches, quicksand.
Will you kill to save yourself
Or your beloved? Will you behead
The rattler with a hoe? Shoot the wolf
That takes the spotted calf?
The man who breaks the window,
His leg over the sill?
Don’t suppose you are exempt.


Mist-laden turf to derby dream,
Trajectory of hope and deceit.Artwork by Gene McCormick

Come on, Come on! As head to head
They hit the wire. He’s live

In the daily double. A trifecta
Of fortune like the pot of gold

The shillelagh, the old
Country blarney.

Stake after stake. The charts
Moving up. Impressive wins.

Elephant juice or dope
Whatever enhancement speed

Demands. Ruled off. Hiding out.
Sleeping rough.

Peddling overpriced
Vacuum cleaners. What a

Come down. Deported as an
Undesirable Irishman. Horse-

Whispering talent and old
Sod magic (meth, coke, heroin)

Smiling eyes, clever hands.
O he was a one with the horses.


Joan Colby is editor of Illinois Racing News, a monthly publication for the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation, published by Midwest Outdoors LLC. She lives with her husband and assorted animals on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She is also associate editor of Kentucky Review and FutureCycle Press. Her latest books are Ribcage and Broke.