How I Came Looking for a Poem in the Doorway of a Community Center Where the Voting Lasted All Night in Gambier, Ohio, November 2004
The first snow came fast, a gluey sheet across Ohio, soft earth below,
a sudden snow, northwest along the barns’ eaves, rocks bright in the dark
Slashing sleet in Gambier, breath rose from the line standing 10, 12, 16 hours
in the cold.
There’s a sadness when fall breaks into winter with a stab:
sleet drapes the cornstalks, hollow, bent and breaking,
the dusky sheaves downed in rows laid out by horned thumbs and
She said it was hard to hold the flimsy punch cards between her
and keep the ballots’ chads from falling (like the rain) into muddy pockets below, spoiling the intention, the purpose she held firm in breaking
dawn (she even brought a stool, no one fooling with her right)
and gauzy lightstream.
Shadows cast across broken husks, coats flapping in the stabbing
wind, students wanted to break rank bad and crack glass, but stopped cold.
Rock in hand, the world feels hard, dry and old,
while opening a fist brings stinging bloodflow back to fingertips
darkening the palms to plum as pain begins to stab
out a life. Workers scramble on a break, don’t see their names on the list below
and jump into pick-ups to cast ballots at another location, roaring off
in a fast stream.
They glare at the line, slowed down to a crawl, have to get back to work,
and know they are breaking
their word, leaving without voting. NPR will not be carrying the breaking
news: there is nothing new from the touch screen just a return to the same cold
name. Franklin County awarded an extra 4258 votes by counting
a healthy stream
four times larger than the tally of voters, maybe wormed up from the dead,
these prize fingertips
that touched without ever touching the pale green screen below.
Did the worming fingers leave any personal trace or grow larger as they stabbed
into sleek calves-skin gloves? Three times I’ve heard a fight begin, a stab
of anger among friends arguing over whether McCarthy was worse, breaking
the meal into dust as we dropped food below
into sorrow’s gut– then stopped. It will take all we have to stay bold
and still allow numb grief to enter without stripping us,
to use darkness and silence to uncover a softer touch, to lift Ohio
from its sad dream
bloodying through, a stab at love. How will we find a a rightful stream
of action, familiar as the smell of fingertips ready to take bread and break
pale and dark loaves among strangers in the cold–Ohio.