Gods of Four Mile Creek

by Phillip Howerton


Coming Nov. 1, 2023



In poems, photographs, and essays, Phil Howerton manages to convey his deep love for the rural world into which he was born--specifically the farms, rivers, rocks, fish, birds, and stubborn humans of the Ozarks. His quiet, often wry, explorations of places, possessions, and people demonstrate that such elements may be “gods of our own creation,” gods we may both reject and embrace. A master poet, Howerton has a rare ability to find kinship with blackjack oaks, homeless groundhogs, or discarded milk cans—and in the process he enables readers to identify as well, and thus to discover much about who they were and who they might become.

A few samples here demonstrate the power of empathy which characterizes his  work. And below the samples, we have copied a wonderful new review by Evan Alllen Wood, published in the March-April issue of Missouri Life Magazine.


"The Farm Forgets it was a Farm" begins thus: “The loft barn wears the same faded sweater/ every day, with elbows worn thin where boards are missing.” The aging farm and its farmer merge by poem’s end as, "In the unmown fields, winds with no place to be/ make a muffled uncertain shuffling sound/ like his stocking feet lost in his numbered hallway." By clothing the old barn in human terms, Howerton invites readers to hear in the farm’s empty winds the emptiness which haunts a forgetful old man as he shuffles toward his shrunken space in a nursing home.

In "Farm Team," a lonely boy plays baseball, imagining trees and barn doors as teammates. When "the barn foundation/ hits another grounder" the "impossible catch" is "witnessed by a crowd/ of Holsteins," and readers see the imagination and resilience which farm life once required and still requires.

In “When the Milk Cans Became Unemployed,” we watch the paraphrenalia of 20th century dairy farming, the classic five-gallon milk can, become obsolete. Once an essential tool for collecting and distributing a necessary nutrient within an Ozarks community, the milk can now is farmed out to other, less valuable, uses—much like the farmers who once nourished their small communities.

Despite the deep sense of loss in many such poems, Gods of Four Mile Creek ultimately creates a sense of being and belonging, edged with hope and good humor. Running through this landscape of self and place is a seven-mile-long creek, oddly named "Four Mile Creek," filled with joy, tragedy, and relentless change.


Biography: Phil Howerton is a professor of English and a sixth generation Ozarker. His poetry collection, The History of Tree Roots, was published by Golden Antelope Press in 2015, and his anthology, The Literature of the Ozarks, was published by University of Arkansas Press in 2019. He received the 2019 Missouri Literary Award from the Missouri Library Association. He is editor of Cave Region Review and Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies.



The Farm Forgets It Was a Farm


The loft barn wears the same faded sweater

every day, with elbows worn thin where boards

are missing. Brush and briars fill the garden,

and fencerows grow unruly like untrimmed

eyebrows. No one visits. Strangers glance

in as they hurry past. The doors stand open,

and the fences are down, but there is nothing

to keep in and no reason to keep anything out.

In the unmown fields, winds with no place to be

make a muffled uncertain shuffling sound,

like his stocking feet lost in his numbered hallway.



Farm Team

(Nine Innings of Senryu)


farm boy

playing baseball alone;

the barn door strikes out


he steps to the plate,

summer grasses

do the wave


a fast ball,

the barn foundation

hits another grounder


impossible catch,

witnessed by a crowd

of Holsteins


throwing to a tree,

double play



a homerun!

searching for the game ball

in a neighbor’s hayfield


he fouls off,

the catcher

has no chance


chore time,

the ghost runners

linger in the field


abandoned ball field,

only the wind

circles the bases




When the Milk Cans Became Unemployed


Some found positions with the postal service

holding rural mailboxes, pleased to have landed

federal jobs; others found seasonal work

hauling water during drought; a few



accepted reduced positions in the dairy business

transporting soured milk to hungry hogs;

others submitted to retirement and loiter

around the farm with their metal caps


cocked in mock independence; some

moved to town with their elderly bosses

and stand on either side of the porch

with “Welcome” painted on their bellies


and sporting geraniums; others

found part-time work holding umbrellas

and walking canes at the café or cigarette

butts in front of the laundromat; several,


unable to learn a new skill, stand

with the other displaced collectibles

outside flea markets, waiting

for someone to invent a use for them.