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BOOK: Yellowrocket

Cover photo by Veer

Launching onto the poetry scene with 17 poems in POETRY magazine, a poem in The New Yorker, and a debut collection from W. W. Norton & Company, Todd's first book, Yellowrocket, was named one of the 10 best poetry books of 2008 by Virginia Quarterly Review and was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award.

Boss may truly be the up-and-coming master of internal rhyme …

an ambitious first book.

 Georgia Review

If you only buy one book of poetry

this year, make it Yellowrocket.

 Christian Science Monitor

The title poem (below) tells the true story of Todd's boyhood farm in Wisconsin, a kind of reverse Garden of Eden tale that sets the stage for his "lover's quarrel" with God.

Yellowrocket was named a Midwest Bookseller's Choice Honor Book.

"Yellowrocket" is the common name of a weed that overtakes croplands throughout the upper Midwest. A member of the watercress family, its stem is easily broken, which requires farmers to pull the weeds by hand.


Filthy, but still of good

tilth, our new bargain 80

(40 high, 40 hinter)

made us instantly

wealthy with rubbish.

Never buy a farm

in winter. For years,

my mother stood

by my father’s side

in thickets choked

with tractor parts

and bedcoil and

cried. Whether grief

or shame or the fact

that people could be

such pigs more

upset her, I never

knew. Didn’t matter.

Whatever it was

filled up our

quarter-ton Ford a

hundred times over.

The work was clay

deep, the debt was

north slope steep.

We could’ve driven

State Highway 27

to the local dump in

our sleep. I grew up in

boiled wool jackets,

thinking soil smelled

like brushfire smoke.

Had holes been coins,

our gloves and boots

would’ve jangled.

Unwitting heirs, we’d

come into a garden

overgrown with plastic

diapers and broken

furniture tangled in

burdock and brambles

and thistle. We’d split

with family and moved

a hundred miles, and

the gamble’s payout

was piles of bent nails

and moldering shingle.

Some messes called

for rake, others shovel.

Either way, by dusk of

day we were down

on our knees picking

window glass shards

from the muck. If we

rested, we rested from

wresting long twists

of rusted barbed wire

from deepening kinks

of birches. Primal

was our desire to take

that junk-pile back

from the skunk and

the snake and the rat.

We were the unsung

angels of our portion

of the plat. And for

all that, on Sundays

the Lord gave us halos

of hat-hair and gnats,

and then, in due season:

the apple’s blossom,

forest floors dappled

with trillium, fields

of tall corn, a barn not

yet fallen, views of the

countryside patterned

with drifting pollen,

berries by the bucketful,

the otherworldly lull

of the breeze in our

break of white pines,

5-wire fences posted

in good straight lines,

the easy spirals

of the golden eagles

that nested in our

hardwoods’ crowns,

the kind of sky

in which a small boy

drowns, our health,

and a feel for the earth

indistinct from

scorn. Call it love,

but if you call it love,

call it a love that

persisted, that

stained the palms

and reeked when

you pulled it,

like yellowrocket.

Click here to hear Todd read "Yellowrocket" and other poems from the collection.

My poetry was "discovered" in Poetry magazine by Sherman Alexie, who emailed me out of the blue one day to ask if he could introduce me to a publisher. Six weeks later I was offered a W. W. Norton contract by the illustrious Carol Houck Smith, whose death followed Yellowrocket's publication by a matter of days. Colleagues called it her swan song. My relationship with the farm is conflicted, like my ideas about the divine. I believe human beings are suffering as a result of being post-agrarian. And the reverse Eden story of "Yellowrocket" is something of an autobiographical articulation of that conflict. God and farming are themes I explore a lot in my poems, since poems are perfect places where conflicted ideas can meet and get a little drunk and fist-fight, if it won't interfere with milking.


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