Steven Knepper

Miles to Go

The truck stops rarely carry poetry
On tape so reading is the price I charge
When someone wants to hitch a ride with me.
That satchel with the busted seam beneath
The seat is full of books.  Right now there’s Hopkins,
Thomas (Dylan and R.S. both), and David
Jones—I am revisiting the Welsh.
Before it was the Harlem Renaissance.
I’ve found some kindred spirits on the road.
They’ll sometimes pull their own books from their bags
(Bukowski, Plath, the Beats…they’re popular)
Or a notebook full of scribbled lines.
Most others couldn’t care less either way
And drone along like Pound’s old metronome.
They might decide it isn’t worth the ride
And ask to get off at the nearest exit.
Other cases are more complicated.
I’ve heard “The Road Not Taken” many times.
(It is predictably a favorite in
This crowd.)  But once a guy welled up while reading
It and said that Frost was right—the roads are pretty
Much the same but still you think about the ones
You didn’t take, a shitty fact of life.
One girl, sixteen or thereabouts, I guessed,
Asked me just where I thought those poems might lead,
Her eyes a pair of angry hazelnuts,
Suspicions understandable enough
To have about a big old bearded man
Out here.  She wasn’t quickly put at ease.
She rummaged through the sack awhile and skimmed
A page or two of several books then chose
The Bishop.  I have found good reading rare
And so am grateful for just good enough
But even from the first few lines she was
The poem itself, her voice attuned to every
Subtle shift that sounded out the depths:
She lost two rivers and a pair of cities,
Held a flashlight to the Man-Moth’s fluttering eyes,
Wondered at the otherworldly moose
And at the fire balloon descending in
Its beautiful, destructive dissolution.
Who is this kid?  I wondered in my turn
As she closed up the book and dropped it on
The seat.  “I’ve read enough to earn my ride,”
She said, and I agreed.  We rode in silence,
Watching as each milepost passed us by,
Pondering the hidden meter of our lives.

The Praying Drunk

Some men are fighting drunks or crying drunks
Or singing drunks. I am a praying drunk.
Twice or thrice a season I will sit
With Abner Ramsey at the orchard’s edge
And listen to the hounds run on the ridge,
Or to the tree frogs call, or to the chimesong
Of the stars. We pass the jug and drink
And when the air itself has liquefied
I walk back home. On moonwashed nights the shadows
Are a second world that sometimes startles me,
A second man unfurling on the ground,
A second house that stretches from my house
So that I pass a darkened threshold twice
And am a guest in someone else’s home
Before I reach the one I call my own,
And where I know which boards will creak so step
Accordingly until I stand along
My children’s bed and say a silent word
Of thanks for their soft breath, then cross the hall
To where their mother sleeps wrapped in a quilt
And where I say the prayer I know she said
For me three hours or more before. I won’t
Profane her rest with drunken goodnight kiss
So slip away instead from house to barn
To lay prostrate among the hay and feed,
To join the stabled beasts who bend the knee
To He who turned the water into wine.

Steven Knepper

Steven Knepper teaches in the Department of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies at Virginia Military Institute. His poems have appeared in Pembroke Magazine, SLANT, The American Journal of Poetry, Pennsylvania English, The James Dickey Review, Third Wednesday, and other journals.