Justin Hamm

Ohio County, Kentucky, 1985


I stand in our
ancestor’s field
all of Kentucky
a green inferno
at my back 

I stand there in
one shoe
Grandmother trying
to get ahold of me
so as to spit shine
my filthy face 

Grandfather picks through
the warped-wood barn
for his history  
before the coal company
has its way 

The air in this place
is ripe
with some kind
of weather 



They called my grandfather’s
grandfather The Preacher
and that is what
he was 

This land was his land

He rode these backhills
in his black coat
carrying the hidden ear
of judgement
close to his heart 

His whip they say
he kept down inside
his saddlebag 

I see him that afternoon
me as I told you
in his field
in my one shoe
don’t ask me how 

and when
the corpse of him
opens its vast red mouth
the crows pour out
like the shadows
of a thousand diamonds   



All around us
the insects whine 

All around us
Kentucky like one
great green blaze
of summer 

Grandmother closes in
reaches for the sleeve
of my t-shirt 

I see the dead man
out there on his mount 

I hear him speak
the bodies of those
dark birds

I know the family

I know all of them

The skies now
the color of healing

I look up
into Grandmother’s
horse-wild eyes 

I let her catch me

Originally from the flatlands of central Illinois, Justin Hamm now lives near Twain territory in Missouri. He is the founding editor of the museum of americana and the author of American Ephemeral and Lessons in Ruin, as well as two poetry chapbooks. His poems, stories, photos, and reviews have appeared in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Midwestern Gothic, Sugar House Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and a host of other publications. Recent work has also been selected for New Poetry from the Midwest (2014, New American Press) and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize from the St. Louis Poetry Center. justinhamm.net