Excelsior, Unincorporated

Joseph O’Brien

For Father Michael Gorman


Driving the deep green of rolling Wisconsin coulees,
Amid the fragrant munificence of their ventilation,
One can easily find fault and occasion within a village,
Occasion for pulling over and fault for putting together
The world at intersections, dusty, deserted, themselves
The masks and themes, the lazy mysteries
Waiting to be arrived at.

And signs are more than stops and yields, as much as
Curled shavings and coiled scraps of birch and hickory
Can excise and envision what is and what is not
As they burn on a pyre of observations very much heaped
Like the evocation of a steeple, the prayer of a spire,
The folded hands of each steepest township
Heartsore to be arrived at.


The vision, or town, or whatever it is, is laid out sharp
On the tic-tac of cross streets; but the edges have blurred;
No faces match the proud commerce of the village green;
Bodies, yes, full of flesh,—always in a laboring blur,
Or fishing on a bridge for reflections of boyhood,
The lowly needless things unhinged, either
Boldly deduced or merely guessed at.

Main Street pretends a skeletal cathedral vaulted with clouds.
Its nave sails through alien green of corn and tobacco,
The narthex flanked with silos, granaries, pole sheds, stubble;
And apse invested along the bumpy country of county roads.
A windbreak of old pine serves as withered rood screen
Covering cemetery’s wrists and ankles and
Other parts to be guessed at.


Driving through these fleet visions, this fraught town, this body
Of men, one thinks as one drives, assuming the studied dust
Of one town delivered, transferred like pollen, unto another,
Yes, the beautiful body of man, not the odious bodies of men.
One thinks, still hoping to see with what kind of fuzzy stuff
This delicate universe, this snoozing
Picturesque is gotten at.

Signs along Main Street and the crude country of lettered roads
Combine in ascension to bedewed grass and corporeal clouds;
True meanings of such beatitudes are only bestowed
On the soul’s rural life, fragrant as pinewood shavings
And like a useless attic heirloom waiting to be unpacked
From the graceful fumble of excelsior’s rough and
Tumble before it’s gotten at.

Joseph O’Brien lives on a rural homestead near Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, with his wife Cecilia and their seven children. He is a freelance writer and hosts the online radio program “Cover to Cover” for Catholic Radio International.