Katie Riley 


A Study of Route 62

  “And it was still the fifth of February, 1918.”  ~ Elizabeth Bishop

And sixty years later, it was once again the fifth
of February, another night of slush and snow

when I dropped into this existence. 
And some ninety-four years later, Ms. Bishop,

you needn’t worry

about falling off the round, turning world
into a blue-black space. You are buried deep
in the cold of Worcester. I open the throttle,

and this man-made thing 
of black paint and steel talks to me of how
I’ll die someday like nothing else ever has.  

As a child I watched light emanate
through the front window of a little house
as we drove by. 

I’ll always be the outsider looking in.  

Not talk of much. Never about how I can
feel the earth rotate when I lay in dandelions.
How I can lean into a curve, how maybe I am wild 
carrots in the ditch. Their lacey faces cup the sky. 

The bridge across the Kentucky River is narrow,
and the air past the Wild Turkey Distillery smells 

like mash. An old woman asks the clerk
why the price of gas has gone up. 

I pay five dollars for gas
and a Coke I guzzle. It’s always about money.
And I throw on my backpack of clothes
and books. 

I ride the ridges past acres of yellow tobacco
and scraggly sunflowers planted 
next to mailboxes and porches. Their radiance—
diminished when planted alone. 

A dilapidated barn with its sway back roof disappears
into a field of purple chicory. Workman-like barns sit
next to pastures of grazing Angus and Holsteins. 

On a straight section, I zip up to 70 mph, only to be passed 
by a white clunker and a smug fat man on a Harley. 
My breath finally cools in a stretch of tree shadows.
A butterfly flies out in front of me. I cringe and brace
for impact. With a back stroke,
it vanishes into clumps of timothy.


A Study of Train Tracks

A train whistle spreads out, fast and low in the pastures, 
over the dry creek crowded by sycamores, 

to where I live behind the white silk
of corn. It’s autumn here again, and the fields 

are folded over. And the quiet that remains 
is broken by the gray’s shod hooves. 

When I was young, I found a possum cleanly 
beheaded. Her body on one side

of the track.  Head on the other. Cleaved
at the neck. Her fur: pale and dry. 

She had been there for days.
My father instructed me like his father before him:

One for the crow. One for the worm. One to grow.
How the yellow seeds seemed too pale, too dry, 

laying in their furrow. If I walk that track back—
it’s my hometown because it’s the first place 
I needed to leave. 

Meandering from school, I’d drag my feet. Kick leaves 
piled up under the train trestle. They crunch, colored 
and scented like cinnamon. Maybe in another life, 
my father’s wife was a tribal goddess.

Her butt planted on the couch.  Smoking and smoking. 
You are so stupid.  You don’t know your ass from a hole
in the ground.

I daydream—I sneak through train yards, scrabble
into box cars, hide behind freight.  Bury myself in straw.

But, it didn’t happen that way. I stood riveted by the fierce
whistle. How I wanted to disappear
like a black ribbon falling.


A Study of Chores

The horses have been left out late again 
and have given up waiting. 

their weepy eyes, flies
cluster. The chicory crawls through the fence,

and dust blooms next to wild 

The farrier left the broom against the door
and it speculates with shriveled

hoof trimmings and bent shoe

At the bottom of diesel cans, 
grit sleeps and the tractor’s gauge pokes
at empty. 

On the couch is Mr. Levis’ book, a stone gray dove
with its wings spread. He would have mowed 

the pastures, watched the swallows
swoop for bugs rising from cut grass. 

A week ago, spoiled milk pulled from the fridge 

now stews on the counter. It grows water, 
a yellow fuss. 

Yesterday, a friend started to cry, her lashes,
a spile, a drip of sap.  

This morning, geese fly low in the yard
past the full head of an ash tree. 

A burgundy leaf, a blemish in its shifting limbs. 


Study of a Dream

This time my mother was behind the wheel.

I almost got to him. But the dream shifted
as his skin tore

as if to say, you can’t do anything.

And the wind blew shovels and pitchforks and dust and bedding 
through my barn aisle, empty of restless horses, soulless,
out into a violet convulsing storm.

You know it’s all gone
and you know why. 

And I woke up, under a muscled arm, to a soft morning cleared by rain,
hundreds of miles and years away.

And that’s what happened too, that morning
gates were blown open, 

hoof prints full of water.  

The day after, I woke up again and the day after that, 
the same.  

And I doctored and watched.  I waited 
for the grave to sink and flatten. 
I ate and drank and went to work. And smiled
and talked, but in my mind, 

I tried to go back and latch
that gate. But, no matter what

the gate stands open and the grass grows high.



A Study of Summer's End

From the yard, lift off: 
starlings with iridescent necks.  

Long shadows will spill 

in the hollow of your chest, dog tags: 
One for your toe, another jammed
through the roof of your mouth, jaw
kicked shut.

A light gold streak in the canopy as if a meteor 

  I wish I may, I wish I might …

That time of year when the foliage falls:  
singed holes in the pagoda dogwood. Curled and burnt. 
One leaf. 

A pause.  Another.  I’ll kiss you gone 

when the trees are green again—those catastrophes
of lines. Grooves in the bark
sky out.  Branches shoot off higher
then continue as veins, 
push into leaves that encapsulate. 

I watch through a photographic lens—full color. You kneel 
and unscrew the mushroom cap from its stalk. 
With care, as if it was threaded. 

The leaves are stunted, 
fall and scatter faster. 


Katie Riley lives in Lexington, Ky., a city she fell in love with as a child, with her two thoroughbred horses. She co-leads "Poezia," a weekly poetry workshop that welcomes poets of all experience levels. Katie was awarded a Postgraduate Scholarship to the 2013 Kentucky Women Writers Conference and is a Creative Writing MFA candidate at Murray State University. 


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