Four Poems

Hardening of the Arteries
One evening as we ate fried potatoes
and mom’s lettuce and mayonnaise salad
dad told us Otto Schultz had died,

of hardening of the arteries, they thought. 

It took me two hours
to fall asleep that night.
The folks couldn’t help much
when I ran downstairs twice
to ask them what arteries were
and does hard mean like cement.

Before, I’d wanted to be a fireman
and then an electrician
who climbed poles in snowstorms
and, for a spell, an architect.
But I knew the next morning
that it would be something else.

Blessed Be the Tie That Binds
They all must have stayed with us the night before—
Glen (the driver, from Oregon), two other guys, and a girl.
Don’t know where they slept, with only three bedrooms in our house.
I got moved out to the couch.

But I do remember that morning,
after devotions and breakfast,
we gathered around the car, held hands
and sang “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”
Hope kissed the folks and me good-bye
and crawled into the backseat.
They’d make Kalona that night to pick up the last girl
before driving on to Virginia.

Mom went back into the kitchen
to scrub out the cast iron skillet she’d used to fry the eggs.
Dad sat at his big oak desk, tried to jot down some thoughts
for his sermon in two days.

Thinking all the time of the Appalachian Mountains
Hope had told me about,
and the Shakespeare she was going to take,
I went out to the field to change the irrigation tubes
from corn rows that had been soaking all night
to rows thirsting for water.

My Fathers Spade
He’d spit on it
then wipe it clean
on his overalls. 

When the irrigation ditch broke
he’d scoop up dirt,
fling it in the rent.

And on Sunday mornings
behind the pulpit
he’d lay out the Word
to his little flock
in two-pounds blocks,
each with clean, sharp edges.

Passing Out Tracts in Grand Island
Three carloads of us
would drive to 4th and Oak
third Sunday of the month.

I’d creep up the gravel walks
and slip The Way
into the crack between the door and frame,
then snake a quick retreat.
What could I say at ten
if I was asked?

But dad would knock
not only once or twice
and even if the woman at the door
stood dressed only in a robe,
a bawling baby in her arms,
he’d push a tract into her hand
and ask if she knew Christ. 

We’d swing back home
in time to milk the cow,
then head back to church,
hope that afterwards
we’d get asked to Ralph and Sue’s
for cherry pie.

Joseph Gascho is a cardiologist at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, where he also has a joint appointment in the humanities. He grew up in rural Nebraska and moved with his family to Virginia when he was thirteen years old. In addition to writing about his Nebraska roots, much of his poetry is related to his clinical duties: seeing patients and reading cardiac sonograms. He is a photographer as well as a poet and is interested in the connection between image and word. 

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