Shari Wagner

Shari Wagner, Indiana’s fifth Poet Laureate, is the author of two books of poetry: The Harmonist at Nightfall: Poems of Indiana and Evening Chore. Her poems have appeared in North American Review, The Writer’s Almanac, Shenandoah, The Christian Century, Indiana Review, and American Life in Poetry. She was awarded Shenandoah’s The Carter Prize for the Essay in 2009 and is the recipient of two Arts Council of Indianapolis Creative Renewal Fellowships, as well as nine grants from the Indiana Arts Commission. Wagner has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Indiana University at Bloomington and teaches for the Indiana Writers Center and Butler University’s Religion, Spirituality & the Arts Seminar. Her laureate website is


The farm wife meets the giant rattlesnake of LaGrange County   


I thought it was a monster farmwives concocted

to keep their daughters from wandering too far

into a cornfield. Mom never could name the Amish

farmer who stopped his buggy when he saw it

stretched across E 150 N near Fly Creek. A fallen tree,

he figured, but as he raised an axe, the scaly bark

beneath his boot slid into the field. Any snake

disappearing is scarier than the one you see, but

Mom swore this one had thirty rattles and eyes

like a red warning signal at a track. Some Christians

reach into a box to grasp a venomous snake.

They take it as an act of faith. Now that Mom’s gone,

I’m taking her great snake to heart. Rows of cornstalks

close behind me. Leaves against dry leaves hiss.



The farm wife balances the ledger before she goes to bed


Three hundred gallons of milk

leak into the empty diesel tank.


A dozen brooding hens flap

against the bars of their column.


Even the sheep I count leap

into the Blue Lake beans.


So much to keep straight—

like Uno cards in a losing hand.


How did the names of bovine ladies

shrink into numbers to subtract?


How can I fall asleep

with a bottom line that roars


like a combine’s cutter bar

crunching what it meets?




The farm wife shields the yellow jackets that stung her


Pete thinks we should pour gasoline

where they’ve burrowed near the fence post,

but winter frost will kill them soon enough,


all but the future queen, who will find

another cranny for her nest. “That’s the problem,”

Pete says. “She might move in under the porch


or behind a shingle.” I don’t deny it hurt

when yellow jackets stung my arms and nose

and clung like burrs to my socks,


but those feisty wasps were fighting

for what they fear they will lose—

and who am I to fault them for that?



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