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By John Kinsella

They’d been warned

on every farm

that playing

in the silos

would lead to death.

You sink in wheat.

Slowly. And the more

you struggle the worse it gets.

‘You’ll see a rat sail past

your face, nimble on its turf,

and then you’ll disappear.’

In there, hard work

has no reward.

So it became a kind of test

to see how far they could sink

without needing a rope

to help them out.

But in the midst of play

rituals miss a beat—like both

leaping in to resolve

an argument

as to who’d go first

and forgetting

to attach the rope.

Up to the waist

and afraid to move.

That even a call for help

would see the wheat

trickle down.

The painful consolidation

of time. The grains

in the hourglass

grotesquely swollen.

And that acrid

chemical smell

of treated wheat

coaxing them into

a near-dead sleep.


"Drowning in Wheat" from Peripheral Light: Selected and New Poems by John Kinsella. Copyright 2004 by John Kinsella. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: Peripheral Light: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2004)

  • Arts & Sciences
  • Living

Poet Bio

John Kinsella
Australian John Kinsella has written over 20 books of poetry, as well as plays and fiction; he also maintains an active literary career as a teacher and editor. Kinsella’s poetry is both experimental and pastoral, featuring the landscape of Western Australia. In his “Alternative Biography,” Kinsella describes himself as “ a vegan anarchist pacifist of 16 years . . . a supporter of worldwide indigenous rights, and an absolute supporter of land rights.” See More By This Poet

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