Cold-Hearted Boys / John Glowney


Cold-Hearted Boys

poems by

John Glowney

ISBN: 978-1-964277-19-6, 44 pages, $13 (+ shipping)

Release Date: July 16, 2024

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John Glowney was born and raised in Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan. His poetry has appeared widely in many journals including Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Beloit Poetry Journal, Shenandoah and a full-length collection, Visitation (Broadstone Books, 2022). He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, Poetry Northwest’s Richard Hugo Prize and the Poetry Society of American’s Robert H. Winner’s Memorial Award. He lives in Seattle, where he practiced law for many years.

John Glowney shows no nostalgia for the sweat-soaked life of the Midwestern farm he ached to escape, yet reveals a farmer’s reverence for the soil itself. He pulls off this trick with poems that are brilliant, precise, and strangely lyrical. A bride wears a dress “white as peeled potatoes.” A sow offers “the beautiful destiny of her flesh.” Repeatedly surprising and masterfully informing us, Glowney depicts a “civilization of soil more ancient than any alphabet.” ~Susan Cohen, author of Democracy of Fire


Part elegy, part jeremiad, and part love letter, John Glowney’s Cold-Hearted Boys dissects an American institution––the family farm. It begins with “the ache for leaving” and ends by affirming “…we take root where we rise up.” Between are poems of labor, tenderness, and grief for the losses in a life seeded in one soil that blooms in another. Cold-Hearted Boys is a moving song of reinvention that we all crave to hear. ~Joyce Peseroff


In Cold-Hearted Boys, John Glowney traces his deep rural roots, sensitively parsing the strands of place, family, adolescence, immigrant ancestry, and unrelenting work. Gleaning the stubble of a cornfield in the wintry glare of tractor lights, he wrestles with his “brittle ghosts” and their “tenacious, rooted afterlife.” By dint of hard-earned muscle-memory, he brings us clear-eyed, compassionate poems. They shine with “the newest edge / of the oldest light.” ~Richard St. John, author of Book of Entangled Souls



It’s nowhere you can return, a road
between fields, the shattered light of spring,

yet I would still describe it as unblemished
memory, pulled from rock

or sculpted in marble, a vein in the wrist

It’s nothing you can sink your teeth into
the way I can taste the hot grit

when the wind riffles the blank pages
of turned soil. I visit on holidays,

my sister’s wedding, and like all
great sentimentalists I stand helplessly

at the window and watch my aged mother
gather the bright, bright wash

from a sagging clothesline—it’s nothing
like any blessing you’ve ever received,

the ache for leaving that outlasted leaving.



My Father Goes Swimming in the After-Life


This is how I see him now,
into that pinkish beach of clouds
covered with angel footprints,

as I remember the one and only time
he went swimming with us

Mom somehow dragging him out of the fields
and away from his prized
herd of milk cows
for a hot Sunday afternoon in early August
at Moore’s gravel pit,

and he waded in,
his thick farmer’s torso stripped down
to an old pair of swimming trunks
dug out of the bottom of the dresser,

burned red at the neck and wrists
where the plaid shirt-sleeves stopped,
red and worn where weather

and baling twine and busted combines,
rusted bolts and dry spells
and lost calves, smashed him up,

he shuffled
into the spin and slop of sun
spread across silted water
like butter gone bad
where kids shouted and played—

and how we stared, amazed
at his great glossy bulk,
soft, spoiled white of banker’s hands,
the sickly white of the larva of flies
—white, white, white—

a purity we had never suspected.



Man In Space, 1963


Ordered to the blackboards
en masse, chalk in hand,

we learned how to subtract
under solemn presidential portraits

cut from old books coming unglued:
Washington a patrician’s pasty

flushed face round as a zero,
Lincoln’s sorrowful brow and cheeks

lined infinitely as pi, Kennedy’s
sunburned smile scissored

from a glossy magazine cover.
In Dallas, on our way to the moon,

we played follow-the-leader,
a processional of black limousines

across the grass of the playground.
Puzzled by take aways

and remainders, we hung a hound-dog
portrait of LBJ. Nothing—pennies,

pencils, pink poodles—added up,
and I’ve erased myself

from that second-grade classroom
where the chalk dust still floats,

suspended in sunlight, like dust
collected from a dead planet.



Cold-Hearted Boys


High school lets them play hooky to hunt,
cold-hearted boys tracking eight-points
into the blackberry brambles. Dirt roads
as uneasy as dogs, slipping off at first light,
dawn lifting ash and smoke off the sun.
Property lines traced with pheasant blood,
the telephone lines threaded through
patch-work sections where the grasses,
wheat, oats, hayfields, surged. Outfitted
in khaki camouflage, they tremble to see
the buck step out, steady their nerve
with the tiniest flick of a finger.
The carcass decorates the pick-up’s roof,
hangs in the garage draining blood into
a plastic tub. Let us praise silos and corn cribs,
haymows and granaries and root-cellars,
let us lay ourselves down under the frozen sky.

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