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What Does This Mean?

In those days, eighth-grade boys drove cars,

Grain trucks, and tractors on the farm,

So Dad was only half-surprised

The little men he catechized

Drove themselves to the village school

(Cream and milk, not church and state,

Were what they worked to separate)

Where he recounted Luther’s rules.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

What does this mean?

We lived so near to Canada

No one was shocked that Saturday a

Black bear loomed outside the glass

Where Dad was questioning his class.

The kids evacuated, rushed

To pickup trucks and beater Fords

To chase the bear down gravel roads

But lost him in the underbrush.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,

Nor his manservant, nor his maidservant,

Nor his ox, nor his ass,

Nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.

What does this mean?

My father’s teaching was homespun:

Father, Holy Ghost, and Son

Were peanuts in a single shell.

His ways were easy, slow, soft-sell.

To those who could not memorize,

He’d feed the answers, phrase by phrase.

Some girls would stammer in his gaze,

Distracted by his light blue eyes.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

What does this mean?

They’d work an hour, then take a break

For thirty minutes the boys would make

The most of, charging through our woods,

Chasing rabbits, hot for blood,

Armed with pebbles and slingshots,

Helter-skelter, crashing brush,

With shouts and yelps when one would flush,

And then return to talk of God.

Thou shalt not kill.

What does this mean?

Less than a dozen years before,

My father had come back from war,

Where many of his friends had died.

These churches in the countryside

Called him to marry, bury, bless,

Ambitionless for wealth or fame.

Those few who still recall his name

Remember best his gentleness.

Honor thy father and thy mother

That thy days may be long upon the land.

What does this mean?

from The Reindeer CampsFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2012
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Published in Barton Sutter Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.