The following excerpt comes from Voices of Nebraska: Diverse Places, Diverse Peoples, an anthology of student work published in honor of the University of Nebraska Press’ 75th anniversary.
Daniel McIlhon is an undergraduate student at Creighton University, pursuing bachelor’s degrees in English and theology. He enjoys, among other things, border collies, pine-scented soaps, and brevity. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his zero border collies. He is one of two panel-selected prize winners in poetry.
Some Autumn Holiday
By Daniel McIlhon
I suppose I should have been back there,
cozying in the maple shade
on my sister’s patio
with my sweater around my knees
and ashy sausages gushing
their oily musk as they fizzled over the fire pit.
Perhaps I should have been with them,
the new in-laws,
graying the air with our breath and smoking mugs,
passing bowls of kraut between our pink fingers
and popping hot morsels like alms
into the collie’s mouth when
it appeared with an expectant grin
between our legs.
That’s where I should have been, I guess.
Instead, in a fit of whimsy,
I’d gone to the playground—
nothing more than a steel carousel
and an arthritic swing set—
rusting at the end of a dirt path
that ran like a dry brushstroke through
the amber maple litter and paper grasses,
far into the clacking trees and
around the scarlet bluffs
that cheekboned the neighborhood.
we’d found it that morning, my father and I,
on a walk we’d taken with my nephews
to break in their new sneakers.
They were the flashy sort,
chromatic explosions of
and cartoon faces
and blue lights that dazzled
with each leaf-flinging step
like some garish sea creature’s
It was these lights that came to mind
as I toed myself
in creaking circles on the swings
and spied a spatter of blue jays
rising from the tree line,
flashing with each win beat and
freckling the shards of marble sky
between the branches.
Eyes on the birds,
I rose and neared the screen of naked elms
and saw a bluff cut sharply downward
just beyond their knobby picket.
The plummeting earth opened
on a mousy pelt of bare woodland,
browned with an ocher horizon
of dry corn and
stark where dead tries shined
like white hairs in its aging scalp.
As the jays dove,
intent on the southern sky,
and flickered across
the static tree tops,
of roasted meat
and hearth smoke
possessed my breaths
and beckoned me
I took a ginger step
backward, then another,
still watching the blue fliers
define their glittering progress
to the path
and rasping on
cloaked ankles through
the auburn chaff
back to where,
I should have been.