January 29, 2023

“Man Does Not Live By Words Alone”

“Man Does Not Live By Words Alone”

Poetry by Dana Yost


Through the window 

the sun blew into 

a glass of white wine 

then refracted into a rainbow 

upon the skin of lemon-pepper chicken 

as we talked about Nazi death camps 

and soldiers killed by sniper fire 

in Vietnam. A teacher dead 

in the recent derecho. 

It was such a peaceful 

setting for death, wasn’t it? 

The seven of us around the table 

and one finally mentioned 

amnesty for draft-dodgers, 

and no one went berserk, 

no one even disagreed. 

We shook our heads 

at the insanity of war, 

at the cruelty of death, 

and my classmate 

posted photos on Facebook 

of herself in hospice, 

ready to die from cancer. 

“I’ll be here for the end,” 

she said from her living room 

couch, under a blanket. I looked  

for a rainbow but saw only  

red and yellow 

and someone shot Custer 

to save his life. 



I don’t need to be anthologized. 

Just euthanized  

For my own damn good. 


I’m likely to riot, 

Burn something down, 

Or burn my way into your heart 

Leaving only a hole 

The size of a prick from a dart. 


Teen-Age Days  

A carton full of shoes, 

none my size. A full-ton 

pickup, its tailgate removed. 

Balloon men and raggedy 

jeans. I run to the outskirts 

of town, to where dust 

meets the asphalt. 

I squat in the bean fields 

hacking milkweed with a hoe. 

Swisher Sweets in my breast pocket, 

smoked at a park in the country. 

Someone stole my red 

bicycle, rode it up the hill. 

I kissed a girl in the basement 

of my parents’ house. 

The smell of beer on my 

mother’s breath. 

To get away from it all, 

my brother and I threw a football 

in the rain across two 

lawns, neither of us saying 

a word, just heaving the ball 

in arcs that called down 

the sky. 


Refugees: To Go On Living  

The woman from Lutheran Social Services 

sends an e-mailed update on refugees from the Ukraine. 

They are many, they are in peril, and some 

are starting to make their way to the United States. 

They are also brave, enduring what I can only imagine 

are nights of fear and uncertainty, of wondering 

who to trust, who not to trust, who is going 

to get them someplace safe. 

A child is pictured on TV, displaced, alone, 

his parents on another bus, another train, 

dispossessed until some kind people give him 

shelter, hope, a cell phone to call his mother. 

To wear the same clothes day after day, 

to eat canned food and shower maybe 

once a week in shelters or old schools 

—better than waiting to be shelled 

or killed by Kalashnikovs, of course, 

—but still a hard way to live. 

I hear a poet read about other refugees, 

those from Gaza, and think, too, of 

those who’ve fled death in Africa. 

They, too, are brave. They survive, 

they are survivors. They are reminders 

of how comfortable our lives 

can be in America, how soft. 

Could I withstand weeks in a refugee 

camp? I doubt it. I would crumble, 

curl in a corner and cry. I could not 

go on. Yet, so many refugees do. 

A woman in the newspaper says 

she lost her home, her son, 

but carries with her her daughter 

and a bag of clothing. Where will 

she end up? She does not know. 

But she owes it to her daughter 

to go on living. 


Hoops By Myself  

On the basketball court 

in the back yard, 

I am shooting from the wing. 

I am Phil Chenier 

from the Washington Bullets of the ‘70s. 

Then I am Norm Van Lier 

of the Chicago Bulls, driving the lane. 

These ballplayers from my childhood 

come to mind when I shoot 

hoops by myself. Maybe it is this 

way for anyone. 

A dog trots past, pulling its 

owner by the leash: a St. Bernard, 

clearly weighing more than the 

50 pounds allowed by the HOA. 

Should I report it? 

I don’t want to be the bad guy, 

the snitch. I look the other way. 

I shoot again but the prairie wind 

carries the ball to the left, so far 

it misses not only the rim 

but the entire backboard 

and bounds across the grass. 

I fetch it and try layups 

for a while to cut through the wind. 

I am an isolato, to use an old word. 

Me. Myself. I. Alone out here, 

as I am alone inside, only 

inside I have my books. 

But my doctor says I need 

the exercise, too. Man does not 

live by words alone, she jokes. 

On the basketball court 

I practice hook shots now, 

like Kareem used to, so 

so gracefully. Mine bounce 

and clank, sometimes go in, 

sometimes fall off to the side. 

These ghosts of the ‘70s 

laugh at me, I think. “We’d 

never miss as badly as you.” 

They’re right. But they didn’t 

have to contend with the wind. 

I lift a shot from the free-throw line. 

It goes in with a swish. I pump 

a fist. “Yes.” Yes. 


A Wave  

The photo shows three of them 

on the edge of a farm lane, 

the kind that circles around 

a center of green grass 

only in the photo it’s 

black-and-white and it’s 

the Dirty Thirties, 

so you don’t know if the 

grass is green or not, 

but they are happy, 

my father with his tousled 

dark hair and his grandmother, 

her hair pulled straight back, 

gaunt cheeks yet smiling lips 

and his grandfather, broad-shouldered 

farmer, hairline receding, and he, too, 

is smiling. They are posed, 

the grandparents’ hands on my father’s 

shoulders, but I like to think the photo 

was taken after the three of them 

had played some kind of game 

of catch—with a baseball, maybe 

a football—because my father 

loved playing catch, became so 

good at it that pro teams lined 

up to sign him, and playing 

catch would have made him 

happy, might have made 

all of them happy, 

and he lifts a hand, 

as if to place it on his grandmother’s 

hand, except the photographer 

caught him before the hand 

landed anywhere, and instead 

it looks like a wave into the viewfinder, 

a wave at the viewer, a wave hello. 


"A Man Does Not Live By Words Alone"

Dana Yost was a state and national award-winning daily newspaper editor and writer for 29 years, spending most of his career at the Marshall (Minn.) Independent and Willmar, Minn., West Central Tribune.  

Since 2008, he has authored eight books, and had poems published in numerous magazines and literary journals. He is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize. 

Among his journalism awards, Dana was twice named the state’s best daily newspaper columnist in the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association Contest, and won the 2007 MNA editorial portfolio first-place award for his collection of editorials. In 2003, Yost received the prestigious Journalism Accountability Award from the Minnesota News Council.  

A graduate of Southwest Minnesota State University, he has lived his entire life in the rural Midwest, mostly in Minnesota but most recently in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 

More information can be found at his website. To find more poetry, check out Fictional Cafe’s Writing page.

"A Man Does Not Live By Words Alone"
#basketball#Dana Yost#memories#poetry#storms#war

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