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Oak Tree

Leaning over a farmhouse where the same
family has lived for generations,
stands an old oak tree: leaves flapping

harder than wind-blown housecoats hung
on a clothesline—roots rummaging
under the porch for a comfortable pair

of shoes. It spends the days basking
in sunlight, or catching raindrops in each
green palm. In winter, its bare limbs tap, tap

against the darkening sky as it waits
impatiently for snow—its boughs like empty
cradles, rocking. It beckons men

and women from the fields in the evenings,
with branches waving like their mothers used
to do when it was time for supper. And

it comforts them to know that year after year,
this ancient oak keeps watch outside their
little farmhouse, its arms spread wide

over their comings and goings, their weddings
and funerals, births and baptisms, firmly
anchored in the hallowed ground of home.

© 2009, Terri Kirby Erickson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.


Terri comments: When I was writing this poem, I was thinking about the word “home” and what it means to most of us—love, warmth, safety, comfort, acceptance, familiarity—and also the different images that come to people’s minds when they think of their individual homes. In the case of this fictitious family, the solid oak in their front yard has become a symbol of home to several generations. This poem is a tribute to that image, as well as the word “home” in general—because no matter how far we go in life or what we do, whether it is riding the range or sitting in front of a computer screen, “home” is one of the most powerful words in our vocabularies—the memories of which can move even the toughest hombre to tears!



El Paso

Heat rises from streets and driveways
and up through the soles of your shoes
until your eyes are like panels of hot glass
through which every image is blurred and distorted.
Even the desert, with its parched, choking air
and vast, grainy hide punctured with cactus

plants and crawling with rattlesnakes,
shimmers in the distance like a photograph

melting slowly on a pyre. The mountains
loom like craggy faces of cowboy
ancestors who never left the rocky range,

under a sky so wide and blue, it could be
the ocean shaken, not stirred, like a bone-dry
martini. The cork-like scent of tortillas
mingles with horseflesh and leather,

and the smell of your own skin, baking under
a fine layer of sand like salted meat on
a grill. Yet, there is stark beauty
in the landscape of this sun-blasted bit of earth,
like bare, bleached bones, picked clean of decay.
It is a place of grit and endurance,

where the arc of a man’s arm whipping
over his head and the strength of his legs
gripping the haunches of an angry bull

becomes a symbol for hanging on when
everything inside him screams, let go.

© 2009, Terri Kirby Erickson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Terri comments
: This poem was published in my first book of poetry,
Thread Count, (available at, and was inspired by the time I lived in El Paso, Texas, as a child. My memories of Texas are still vivid—particularly my cowgirl outfit and black boots!


A Rancher Buries His Wife

They buried her in sun-baked ground, his wife
of fifty years.

A cowbird whistled from a crucifixion thorn,
and a freight train clacked

down the tracks. He stood apart
from the rest of them—folks whose names he

never cared to know, remembering of all things,
her hair haloed with light,

and the scent of her, still clinging to the clothes
she left behind.

He would die of it, this loneliness.
Already his hands were curling up, his fingers

turning blue. He used to be afraid of death.
Now he’d welcome it, like rain.

© 2009, Terri Kirby Erickson, from Telling Tales of Dusk
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's permission.

Terri comments
: When I wrote "A Rancher Buries His Wife," I was thinking of the loneliness that comes with suffering a terrible loss, particularly when losing a beloved spouse, which seemed to correspond so well with the open, far-reaching and often challenging landscapes of the mid-western desert where I lived for a time, as a child. I like to imagine, however, that the "rancher" eventually finds healing and comfort in the place where he and his wife have been so happy together.




About Terri Kirby Erickson:

Terri Kirby Erickson is the author of three collections of poetry, Thread Count (2006), Telling Tales of Dusk (Press 53, 2009) and In the Palms of Angels (Press 53, 2011). Her work has been published or is forthcoming in American Life in Poetry, The Christian Science Monitor, Verse Daily, JAMA, the North Carolina Literary Review, and many others, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award. She has received First Place honors in a number of poetry contests. For more information about her books and poetry, please visit her website at or write to her at



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