Poems by Joseph Gascho

Three poems set in Nebraska farm country.

District 37

The hand pump outside—
hard work for little arms
to pull the water up
but worth the wait,
the shed behind that housed the coal
they burned to keep us warm,
inside the desks,
holding spelling lists,
Fritos, rows of r’s and w’s
penciled in on gray-lined sheets

In the back
two shelves
(or was it three?)
each held thirty books:
the Curlytops,
Daniel Boone
and Wild Bill,

and one, cartoons,
how air breathed in
got to the blood,
how blood was pumped,

And I wonder where I’d be today
without that book
or if there’d been
a Shakespeare,
or a Hemingway?

Wood River Mennonite Church

Eight globes,
hanging down, on chains,
casting tepid light.

Ten rows of benches
on each side
(men right, others on the left)
that smelled of sweat
when we kneeled;
gum stuck beneath
we chewed until the preacher
said amen,
stuck it back again.
In the racks
fans from Appel’s funeral home
stuck between the Life Songs
and the hymnals.

The grate-iron register
half-way down the middle aisle,
we’d huddle round,
bundled up, when it was
25 below outside.

The anterooms in back
where baptized folks
met Bishop Eicher one-on-one
each spring and fall
to say if they were right with God
and fellow man.

The table center front
on which the deacon
laid the broken bread,
the common cup,
where those from Menno’s tribe

The pulpit
on the platform
two steps up
from which the men
would preach the Word
then pray on
and on
while we stood,
shifting side to side,
peeping round
to see who was
peeping round.

Ordnance Plant

Two miles east
the road came to a T.
Straight ahead
a chain-link fence
ten-foot high, barbed wire at the top
no one dared to cross.

It kept us from the ordnance plant,
a place they built
the bombs
they dropped
in World War II.

My parents never knew
about the other things that killed:
the chemicals
left over from bomb making
that leeched down to the aquifer,
the one from which the farmers pulled
the water for their corn
they used to feed the cows
that gave the milk
their babies drank.

In war our boys at church
chose another path
than neighbor youth:
peace and love
was to rule our lives.
And yet that plant
spewed out weapons every day
and wheat we grew
and cream we sold
went to feed the makers of those bombs,
a topic the preachers
never talked about.
Nor of the raping of the land.

Instead they preached
about the sins
of wearing wedding bands
and women shearing off their hair.

About the Author

Joseph Gascho

Joseph Gascho is a cardiologist at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. He is a poet and photographer, and much of his work is related to his medical practice (poems about his patients or about sonographic studies he reads, accompanied by patient portraits or sonographic images). He has several permanent exhibits on display at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.