Dan Pohl

Dan Pohl teaches English and German at Hutchinson Community College. His book "Autchthonous: Found in Place," won the 2014 Nelson Poetry Book Award. 


 Off the coast, fierce song, hear the
Kindled storm,
Entrust the other and change, strange

Hope, bright grace that weeps rays
From soft eyes—part fire,
Part plea: ascend taller, kept spirit,

Highest flame for need, the look of
Autumn’s grave
Comes too soon by cold waves,

“Mon enfer et mon paradis,” the voice
Of amour from
Cairns’ Point glows full of burning kisses

Thrown into darkness that moves the
Cooling earth;
Fly from death and leave amazed.

Baked Potato

Don’t you know love comes from creation
Loaded will work from the garden, grown
For me to mash and smash and mix to an
Almost soup in its own brown bowl, but

It takes time, with eyes that laugh at its
Doom, choked by clarified butter and bacon
Bits to bring out its spirit, like slicing into an
Angel’s heart, fried chicken just a side and

Nothing special, as sour cream slathers
On the worship by the silverware, knife
And fork with some heft, dancing to make the
Drippings fall over the edge, their rain arches

Across its earthly skin, straight from dirt, for
Me to pray and prick and gourmet taste, eyes
Up, “My God, that’s good!” after a dash of
Course black pepper for heaven’s best gift

There Comes a Time 

To leave the farm, source of the past
Beyond the front door with a first
Step from the place you slept

You reached a point when you must
Follow your introductory shoes, Trojan
Horses for socks, anonymous to others
Who can soon look at their smart style

You will discover Barcelona, Greek
Ouzo, German Gemuetlichkeit, red
Japanese slippers, small, sunny islands
And collected amigos along the way

When finished, you may decide to sit in
Your bay window, more the tea type then
To watch whales breach in the sound off
The coast of safe Seattle or perhaps lobster
Boats from the cliffs of stormy Maine


The World Slows 

When trees rattle with their clear skin
Or the Rose of Sharon’s spines crack
With frozen tears, how can you sleep

When their sounds peal the night
By winds that stick their tongues to
Clacking bark, complaining in tempo

And pitch after they cross the line to
Become maracas or rain sticks, cold
Enemy of bees, horses, and flies that

Hide themselves in chilly hives, closed
Barns, and manure piles in tall grasses
Praying the way they do for morning’s

Sun, speaking to those who drive like
Old people walk on ice, care-filled eyes
Driving west, coming close to wrecking

From the beauty, a peek into the mirror
At such light in ice to push such dreams
Behind it that makes angels tremble


The Way

Today, as mankind struggles with the age
And ego, battling powers inflict wounds
By callous drones, watching, observing to spy

Upon embedded souls, planted here by force
Or family, yet the people will remember
In the end, how hard stones crumble, broken

By soft rains and warm thoughts that move
Across the waves of Kansas hills and fields
And under pastures rests a holy sea for

The difficulties the land has always known
Carved by the slow arms of mighty glaciers
So long ago, shaping, sculpting that which

Understands, to heal, to forgive, to amend
The wrong when it comes to it, finally, to pick
The right way, our way, the one we know


Chicken Egg Grenades

As a boy, I remember the belt
Two inches wide, brown leather
Folded and snapped to pop
Before the licking.

I suppose I deserved the
Lash, a voice of discontent
At the end of a summer’s day
The battle bathed the backyard

A German soldier here
A Japanese brigade there
They needed the pin pull
And boom to guard home
And save my mid-state family

The chickens did
Not miss the two
Hundred; they would
Never see the hatch


Summer Jazz

The standards pepper among triple heartbeat sets;
Some Coltrane calms the energy; the buzz between
Each improvised bell curve arraignment lifts the
Audience to charge spirits by electrochemical art, then
brings them back by soft cushions of quieter notes,

       But they don’t ever return to their start, not really,
       Transported a little higher by five beats per measure

Of masters with nothing to prove, who help assembled

Souls lose themselves for a while through a theory,
Built skillfully with the silence between notes from well-
Worn instruments played beyond their range of color
To discover hidden continents of sound seldom heard

       By our kind who revel in a dark, spot-lit room where
       People can discover how to breathe, so they do not

Disappear, as long as Yoder’s drums pound out gray smoke,
Pisano’s top-heavy sax sings whatever it wants, so clear that
Colorado spring water from the source is its only friend, and
Markley’s blessed piano, played with two minds; the right
Strikes the keys sure and deep, part metronome, a guide

       For other hearts to unite them, who need its care, and
       The left lets his fingers run lightning fast to vanish.


Something about a Pond

The pull of water, in field or park
Draws those who can fall deeply
Into thought, hypnotically drawn

To come pensively to shore, the
Bank that beckons such tired
Souls for renewal in its silence

To look into its moving mirror
At secondary trees and cloned
Clouds, at a reflective world

Maybe a better world, framed
By tufts of tall grass along the
Divide between a real life and

One imagined, but for which side
Of reason or which side to dream
Becomes the question during

The pitch of sticks and stones to
Ripple the surface, break the spell
And return from its offerings


Prairie Dogs Have No Time to Pray

When they notice dangers that come
They dive deep into their Kansas seas
Filled with prehistoric, disconnected
Bones and ancient predator’s loosened
Teeth that punctuate their keeping
Among Indian Root, June bug grubs
And Devil’s Claw, which also burrow
To invade the space of shattered Flint
And Sand Hill grasses.

They dig to swim there underground
Into bunkers where some live, as we
Will not; shaken, they squeak and leap
Centuries deep when hawk shadows
Fly too near.


Next Movement of Will

In the East, a child sleeps
Dreams undisturbed
In the West a mother’s joy wakes
On a sun-filled morning,
And a quiet train moves through
The land at peace, in peace
After a time of no thought
Mankind now wills
Not to live in error so long disputed
       By bodies,
The names who died, unforgotten
We lift them as saints
For a path we found--fearless, rejoicing,
Blessed for once by humbleness
In character and a certain caring,
A passion
Beyond the wounds, the hurts,
The wicked death
That has followed until this moment   
To walk roads home,
Confident, rolling deep with knowing rains
In hills
With the distant bells of pasture cattle
That have always known how


Climbing Style        

Abandoned five-story grain elevators, ghosts of
Building silos that gave temporary storage, the
Square kind, outside old towns near train tracks
Before there was a town that materialized
During the 1890s, clapboard with pressed-tin
Plates for fancy, its façade had the last breath

Of its blue paint scoured over the years by Kansas
Storms, blasted by road sands and high winds, so
Much weather, they have a way of attracting mice
              And children strong enough to think themselves
Immortal to explore them, to climb to the top
House and look through the windows they broke

Into the countryside for miles and pretend to fly like
Hawks or eagles, promising themselves that they
Would eat raw meat if they must to fly when they
Reincarnate after they die, climbing the crossed
Grid-work of rods inside that held the walls for
The weight of phantom wheat that pushed against

Them, placed at intervals, up every three feet
Thinking themselves too apt to slip and fall and
If they did, to come back even as small birds that
Eat salty, sourer bugs as long as they could fly
And to keep their climb secret, or, if not, killed
By mothers who would if they ever found out


In Memory of the Church Ladies and Rev. Bob

  In the Sheds
Like animals, they find it hard to wait
For their daily corn and feed meals—
Gladys, Bea, and Helen—while the
Honorable Reverend Bob sniffs them
From his shed two doors down, sows
In heat but hungry and uninterested
In his needs, Maslow’s hierarchy in its
Place about what’s important, to dance
Around the grain and each other, grinding
It up by molars, complaining out loud
With grunting tongues

In the Pasture
This end, Reverend Bob costs more than
He’s worth, and Bea has turned bully
Knocking Stephen down as he sprints
Each day to fling and spread their vitamin
Enriched food before them, moving fast
Stepping like a water-walking Jesus lizard
In beat-up, tan work boots, most times
Winning, sometimes not, lucky to regain
His footing as their radar pings the target
Then he decides

In the End
No more piglets remain and Bea rests in the
Freezer; cash cuddles in Stephen’s new jean’s
Pocket to buy his safe retirement to ferment
Beer, feeding yeast, small critters that eat his
Sugar, a sweeter life, instead of two o’clock
Birthing that interrupts his sleep, taking him
From his warm comfort on winter mornings
But now, the livestock eats through the night
And he happily sips gold, making more money
In one than he did in eighteen years with the
Swine to tell stories with more friends about
Their doom and his luck to still have his life



Social beings need a time alone, if lucky, to retain
Some sense, some dignity, by walking a country road
At sunset away from the manmade noise of public
Distractions to dance within the sound steps of gravel

And sand, pushed to the sides, peaked in the middle
By slow cars that agree to keep down the dust,
Posted by the signs both ways near a single house
Isolated on purpose behind the hidden line spoken
By human words of the owner, “No Trespass,” which

Means nothing to the bristled terrier other side the
Gate, vanishing to gone over the cattle guard, never
Never to return, ignoring the light of the whistle to
Do so, diving into a grass sea to attack rabbit runs


Fish Head Totems

To keep up with the heavy
Sun of late June, just
Before wheat harvest,

Air conditioners hum and
Buzz sleepily inside each
Car and farm truck

Traveling east with a hurry
On County Road 1063
Just outside civilization,

Three miles west of life
They flash pass cemetery
Stones in line as files

In a drawer, everyone in
Their place, and over the
Blacktop, shimmering in

Heat, a wall of half-grown
Corn that begins to hide
Farm houses, cattle, and

Tractors, a slow magic trick
And background for electric
Poles, smiling into the draw,

Going down, coming up
Wrapped in large catfish
Heads on company crucifixes

Nailed in place to the four
Winds, one to each side
Sacrifices and offerings,

Placed as high as a twelve
Foot Ladder would take
Them toward heaven before

Embellishing the next
Tall canvas, shared with
The county, looking like

Dark-green pulled teeth
With dried feelers and eyes
To become objet d'art


Feeding After Four

What if I tire, shopping the day
At kiosks and boutiques with you
Down corridors toward the men’s
Toward the ladies to wait?
            What if I sit here on this
            Blond wooden bench
            And rest your packages
            In front of an out-of-place
            Mall aquarium, tucked in
            Between a movie theater
            And a discount shoe store?

The tank’s energy remains charged
After the feeding I missed at four
            Its occupants move quickly
            As they pan for leftovers.
Behind the thick glass slide old, fat
Catfish, saw tooth gar, well fed
Chinese carp, and a nervous ball
Of silver minnows, who swim
Back-and-forth above the gravel
Blanket bottom where, with focus,
Digs one hard shell turtle.

Saucer sized, he troubles to tip
Heavy stones to look beneath.
He wants to find scarce, small
Treasure, stolen by his companion,

Who softly, tenderly slides behind
Him and gently slips her long slender
Neck under his left side near his heart.
            She wedges under his jaw
            And pressures away his
            Bottle nose, to snatch his
Bit of bread, as lovers often do.


Memory in Stones

Written in memory of the William Stafford Celebration
at Washburn University, 31 March 2014, Topeka, Kansas

During the Kansas Celebration, one-hundred
Years of sharing himself, Bill would certainly
Muse, “This is how it’s done: I bring stones,
Some full or cryptic writing and dense worlds

From my life and lighter ones to the shore
For choosing, and you bring yours as well
Clacking in deep pockets, to share with me.
I prefer we meet where the river whispers

To toss our stones across the life of it, and
As we do, count the skips each makes over
The surface before our stories sink into it
To collect there from the time we shared.”


Lectionary of Land

Mark it well and good, walking through seasons
Page after page, to get to harvest gatherings
With chants inside the circles, and we know
Our human moments

By what’s important to us by the turn of
Hallmark’s Calendar that tells what card and
When, so we know about our births, our lives,
                        Our deaths, our moving

Waves through wheat, animated on the land
That offers us resurrection, twining through
It, recognizing its sense, its focus with time,
That shapes

The years and then a west wind, which
Breathes fire for new grasses that speak
Benedicere, the Latin long forgotten,
Sharing our life, our bread.

Ease into It

Maybe, that’s the way it should sound, boats sliding out
Into the water to go there, and they gently bump the others
Along the way to discover that spark that has always been
Inside to convince them to untie their half-hitch moorings

Maybe, ease into the truth, preached by conscious poets
Of one way or that way that they know to speak together
Looking beyond their rapids in streams, the hate, the anger
The confusion, the broken ropes that have no certain grip

Maybe, you should ease into it as well, this life you found
This creation that became yours, shared with good friends
To read your movements, to interpret the signs left behind
And never judge anything so pure like another’s footsteps


Barefoot on Summer’s Sand

My heart, gray bark surrounds it
A tree, one lonely tree on an island
A tuft of grass, that stands as a ghost


On a keel of a sand dune ship, to bleach
My bones, cooked in high noon’s light
To become one isolated oxygen isotope


To vibrate above the silicate ground on
Which I stand, circled by hugging heat
Of the blond garden and goo of stones



Medicine men and sage women
Know they must fight for each day
Using nothing more than their spirit

They walk with familiars who speak
To them through impossible time
Across generations of mind of the
Others before and tribes to come

They feel they must walk east into the sun
Each dawn to make absolutely sure the earth
And every being on it continues to spin