Foundation and Burma-Shave/ two poems by Matthew J. Spireng


Up the hill, scant remains of an
old foundation, first house here
that burned long ago—wood, not stone,
so buildings standing are what came after.

This house newer, and the barn, outhouse
and three weathered outbuildings. Who lived there,
I’ve no idea, deed traced back only so far.
I wonder sometimes if digging there I’ll find

traces of habitation—metal or ceramic, likely,
that escaped the fire, or came through
only to be lost in the rubble, long since rotted.
All it seems now is stones and soil, grown up

with weeds, a few young trees and two old stumps
where trees had earlier been cut. Imagine, if
this house or any is true measure, the tales that
lie amid scattered stones up the hill.



The bright white backs of a series of signs
on the opposite shoulder
flashed as I passed last night on a stretch of road

I’d ridden on most of my life. It was the same
sweeping curve where six
Burma-Shave signs—a witty jingle when read—

stood just off the shoulder on my side of the road
when I was a kid—a memory
forgotten until triggered just then. But just which

of the hundreds of jingles Burma-Shave used 
was the one I read day
after day when I rode there eludes me, though

a few I’ve seen seem vaguely familiar. I’d think
it would be instantly clear
if I saw the same one I saw on every trip

back from town as a child. And what
were the signs I saw
the backs of last night? Identical advertisements

for a U-pick apple business. Not jingles. Not
“Some roses are red, some apples
are, too. Not far ahead, we’ve got plenty

for you. U-Pick Apples.” Just U-Pick Apples
with unreadable smaller type
sign after sign, a memory jogged by their presence.


Matthew J. Spireng’s 2019 Sinclair Poetry Prize-winning book Good Work was published in 2020 by Evening Street Press.  An 11-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he is the author of two other full-length poetry books, What Focus Is and Out of Body, winner of the 2004 Bluestem Poetry Award, and five chapbooks. He was the winner of The MacGuffin’s 23rd Annual Poet Hunt Contest in 2018 and the 2015 Common Ground Review poetry contest. Website:

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