To Make a Living
{An Umbrella Special Feature}

Allen Braden

has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, an Artist Trust fellowship, an Artist Trust grant, the Emerging Writers Prize from Witness magazine, the Grolier Poetry Prize and other honors. His work is published in The New Republic, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Georgia Review and anthologized in Best New Poets 2005, and Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry and Family Matters: Poems of Our Families.

Former poet-in-residence for the Poetry Center and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he teaches at Tacoma Community College.

—Back to Work Poetry Contents—

Down the Silo for my father

I’m too old for this, you tell me
as we clamber up the grain silo.
The landscape less important
in the retiring light of this day.

Soon auction goers from all over
will traffic our shale and gravel lane
straight and serious as a gun barrel
across land no longer in the family.

Thirty feet above the ground,
I wind your rope around my hip,
same as I’ve done every year before
to breach the hatch and disappear.

Twice, you test that rope,
your eyes blue as pebbles,
blue as the neighbor boy
found buried under the bushels.

Below, the auger drills uselessly,
the slope of grain tired and idle.
We knew it would come to this.
I must shovel the rest.

Dull in the dust-light, I descend
into the throat of funneled grain.
The cord thrums through your grasp,
its fibers like nettles in my hands.

Suspended away from the light,
I have to hold on. You think
the same, lowering me into your dark
and golden world for the last time.