Excerpt: Voices of Nebraska

9781496200679The 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

lacquered plastic

and cartoon faces

and blue lights that dazzled

with each leaf-flinging step

like some garish sea creature’s

courtship display.


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,

sudden phantoms

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

before tuning

to the path

and rasping on

cloaked ankles through

the auburn chaff

back to where,

I suppose,

I should have been.

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