Three Poems - February in Illinois, Home, and Spring Floods

By Richard Luftig

February in Illinois

A thin flag of starlings

are singing anthems

into the wind and a red-plum

moon continues to hide


its face nearly each frost-bound

night. Winter is hoarding

its colors again. This is

the month when farmers swear


that tractors can smell

new snow in the air,

and barns, shivering

in the cold would,


if they could, repair

any gaps in their walls.

Windbreak trees, only trying

to do their duty, bend


under their burden

of ice. But folks around

here have seen this season

for enough years to know


how this story will end:

blankets of dew

will warm this land,

while moonlight shows off


corn in the fields, and before

long there will be plenty

of roadwork and fieldwork

enough to last through summer    



Home is where the house is—Emily Dickinson.

I went back once to see

the place where I was raised

and found it abandoned:

windows broken, stripped

down to the studs, so much


smaller than I remembered--

even the postage stamp

of a lawn that I hated to mow.

Who was it who said

you can’t go home again?


Then there was the house in New York

we bought the first year we were married,

a duplex we figured would help pay the mortgage.

But the people never paid the rent

and moved six other folks in besides.


Later, we bought the two-story built

by a returning Civil War soldier for his bride.

It was the home where our daughter was born,

where we found newspapers about Lindberg’s flight

used as insulation when we broke into the walls to remodel


her room. It was the house where you cried

when I moved us out to Indiana to get my degree.

A rabbit hutch of an apartment maybe eight-hundred square feet,

if you measured it with a room stretcher.

The ice fell an inch thick the night our son was born.


We moved eight times in the next

four years. Got on a first name basis

with the U-Haul folks, you grieving

with every broken dish you unpacked,

each broken dream I caused. Then, finally


we had roots. Thirty years in Ohio,

watching each kid grow up, move away,

sow lives of their own. Now, we are here

in California where the sun always shines,

and no one is allowed to grow old. Except we have.


And how sad I get when I think

of the day we will have to move again

to where someone mows your lawn,

and they won’t let you have a dog.

Or even a stove. Where you eat what they serve


in an elegant dining room, six folks to a table.

But then when I get like this how

you gently take my hand, lead

me to the shelf, and open the book

to the page that holds Emily’s, dear words.



Spring Floods

Then land, now water,

these flooded, new-born

streams crisscross

at hard, right angles.


Creeks, once mild now

spiked with whitecaps

in the wind. This topography

so firm, flat and tabled


with no slant or pitch,

no place to turn to tell

water how to behave

or at least teach it some


manners. Ditches

and full culverts, fast

moving, carry branches

as if signs for Noah’s doves.


What once were fields

are reduced to snippets

of dry land, quilts sewn

together by water.


Storefronts with mud

up to their doors,

silt to their windows.

People motor their boats


down Main Street. And out

at the edge of town where

weather-worn houses trail

off to once-were corn fields,


a lone derelict car, now swept

into a neighbor’s front yard,

submerged to the door

handles, abandoned to its fate.