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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.