On a Farm Near Junction City

Nate Duke

Beside the rainy hog shed, the county food bankforklifts pallets of old bread, blue with deep moldand tints of February. In our slickers with kniveswe slit packages of rancid buns, pre-made PB & J's,their special rot an Oregon green—and feed it allto the pigs. We feed them fetid eggs, decayedchickens also, but today is bread day. Farm folksay pig manure is the only kind with a bad smell;it's the ammonia. We clean the pen with shovels,push the slimy dreck to the slough. My colleagueand I, we scrape the floor till our filthy tools spark.This guy's a real employee, speaks good Spanishto the other hands; so, when he asks, are you a manof the herb? I think I must be—a dim volunteershoveling his way to dinner. All this becauseI should've followed some lover to Chattanoogaor learned to operate the track hoes in Arkansasbut instead I'm near the ocean, and broiled thoughtscool in labor's mute thrum. After a shower, I'll listenon the couch to the farm's daughter play Chopinwhile a cat I've never met scales my chest, nestlesinto sleep. A kind of recompense I think, for liveswe didn't choose—because winter's animal bedneeded fresh straw, or the woodstove in our bunkhousegrew cold, and somebody had to get up and stoke it.

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Nate Duke is the author of A Suit of Paper Feathers (Parlor Press, 2023). His work appears in Paris Review, Granta, Colorado Review, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD in Poetry from Florida State University.

Anderson, South Carolina

"In A Suit of Paper Feathers, backwoods apocryphal folk tales merge with data mining and boyhood spaceship fantasies, and the intimacies of lovers are treated with the same reverence as the intricacies of wetland irrigation. These poems push language to its furthest limits, each line crystallized in amber; what lurks in the space of the unsaid will hollow you out like the hole beneath an uprooted oak. The heart of this collection is indeed 'a litter of puppies in the stomach of an alligator,' and as we follow the shapeshifting speaker from Texarkana to Missoula, through the flatlands of Illinois and the swamplands of Louisiana, Nate Duke proves himself to be a league of poet all his own. Ragged and elegant, A Suit of Paper Feathers left me in awe at what poetry can accomplish when spun by a masterful hand."
—Erin Slaughter, author of The Sorrow Festival

"This book is a tender damnation. Nate Duke constructs a contemporary Americana that is, at first, comfortingly familiar. But soon, winds swirl, and it is time to hide in the tornado cellar—to spoon canned corn next to a kerosene lamp. These poems are as precise as a factory line in the Ozark mountains—readying the neighbors for the end times, or an apocalypse. Tucking them in and lulling them to sleep with deft epiphanies and cunning images. More impressive, though, is Duke’s intimate contortion and interrogation of language. This book is devastatingly clever. A beautiful and violent fork of lightning. A knockout debut collection."
—Collin Callahan, author of Thunderbird Inn

"The intellect in A Suit of Paper Feathers makes its ample bursts of tenderness and playfulness disarming. Duke fuses dirty realism with the surreal impeccably. Strange and powerful, his images and wordplay delight on every page. With this debut, the poet proves himself an innovator and essential voice in ecopoetics. In A Suit of Paper Feathers, nature accepts human cruelty with grace, while the book’s speaker self-destructs with great heart. 'Don’t look at me I only want / my mom to like me,' Duke writes, his speaker avoiding a house 'where someone knows me like a faucet.' Yet the book invites us to look at and know him and to see him profoundly in ourselves."
—Brett Hanley, author of Defeat the Rest

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