Signs ~ Bethany Bowman



They know they’ve arrived when they see trees.                

Trees mean water, timber, game. They unload the wagon,

eat flapjacks. Pa plays fiddle, Phoebes sing.

Much later, our family drives five-hundred miles

from upstate New York to northern Indiana.

Vineyards line the Great Lakes; we don’t stop.

Before long, it’s soybeans and corn and no hills.

Somewhere near Columbus, the kids sample conies

with Cincinnati chili, and I wonder if I wrinkled my nose

the same way when my husband took the job.

Una counts buzzards while our youngest finally naps.

We listen to C. S. Lewis on audio book: The Problem of Pain.

Una’s eyes close, and we discuss the new house, 

afraid the wallpaper might be ancient,

that the roof, which has four layers of shingles,

might not hold off tornado season rain.

We wonder if we’ve made the right decision,

uprooting the kids from their grandparents, the Valley,

to follow a dream that rubs legs and wings together

like locusts in the Midwest, and if there will be a sign

we’ve made the right choice, and if we’ll recognize it

if it hums and snaps at dusk, or flies with transparent wings.

Pa could read the signs, but still, some nights, trudged home

with a rifle full of shells, empty pockets, no meat.

We wonder if it’s right to look for signs,

knowing there’s just one sign, The Sign of Jonas,

and the only way to wake up on a new shore

is to spend three days in the belly of a whale.

But there are signs: A doorbell that chimes Auld Lang Syne,

garden rife with onions, stray cat asleep on the porch.

Inside, the walls are damask, ceilings high,

and the staircase may lead to a magic wardrobe.

Best of all, there’s room for the piano,

which I will teach our children to play

just as my mother taught me, and I will read to them

the books of my childhood, and pray,

in the spirit of Ma, who, miles from anywhere,

washed muslin and calico as though it mattered.