Gabriel Welsch


after Bishop
The state with the prettiest name
and the ear of an ancient ridge—
its runnel of stone cluttered
with the wet trees that hold taut
the devastating brown in winter,
the state with air cluttered by the noise
of more miles of road
than any other state, its cities
rarefied by steel and freedom—
the state of deer hungry and baffled,
twisted on its roads, tufted on its fenders,
swinging husks on the porches
of tight homes crowded on the Susquehanna,
the Juniata, the Allegheny—
the state where roads of chicory
rattle through the weight of August
out of the mountains and onto the slow
limestone slab that runs to the Chesapeake—
the state hollowed out in its wood-dense
middle, rusted in a line from Scranton
to Monroeville, slag heaps stand sentry
over ridges pillaged bald—
the state on fire at its core where stories
slide into the maw of hell each time
another house groans its way into the earth—
the state abutting the Great Lakes
which feels their force with each gush
of winter that rakes over the ridges—
the state where mud sings, its telepathy
gritty and familiar, its voice a particular
shade of its character, given roundness
with sweet lime—
the state of forests that beckon
with trails of shadow and distance and great
disappearance, tied to its deliberate
stretch toward winter, when this state is all smoke
and the gray reaches of trees, all darkness
and fire, all ash and water and the salt-worn
roads that lead all thoughts to home—
the state where to talk of soup is to talk
of God and Sunday bundling and bazaars
through the countryside and gravestones
laid over with flags and wax begonias—
the state with pierogie sales and funnel cakes
and cheesesteaks and soft pretzels
and the ruddy faces of corpulent railroaders—
the state that is everywhere and here,
made distinct by its bunched mountains
and hidden towns, how it lays demolished
under leaves, resting on ground that grows
hollow and more hollow year after year,
burning and sinking—
the state with the prettiest name, a name
that is both lie and promise,
adjective and mystery, history and fable,
one man’s woods.
We hear robins in the laurel, semis
jake-braking into town,
the sudden snap of deer hooves
on tomato stakes. And always,
highways building and seething
with our weight, pushing on limestone,
building and building on this softening ground.

Gabriel Welsch
Pennsylvania was first published in Crab Orchard Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter/Spring 2004.
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Gabriel Welsch
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse