Wisconsin farmer reflects on a life in agriculture in book of poems

By Tim Peterson | July 21, 2022

  • Barn at Smith's family farm. Photo by Tim Peterson

Barn at Smith's family farm. Photo by Tim Peterson

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The poetry in Daniel Smith’s book “Ancestral” reflects on life and farming in the Driftless area of southwestern Wisconsin. WPR’s Tim Peterson spoke with him about his poetry in the early spring in his barn near Arena, Wisconsin.

Smith shared three poems about heritage, loss and an appreciation for the wild.



I’ve hauled my father’s anvil

due north

up out of the black Illinois farm ground

he and I together worked,

decades our home.

Set down sixty pounds

onto the floor of this old barn,

new only to me.

All around, our bewildered tools

hang in the strange light

of the cracked windowpane

where I stand

looking out over land

not yet home.

It is growing late

on a late winter’s day.

At my feet, my father’s anvil,

his striking song of steel on steel

still hammering home.

Daniel Smith. Photo by Tim Peterson

Daniel Smith. Photo by Tim Peterson


A Farmer Dies in Springtime

Home from the hospital

To a bed

With a view of the fields.

Tended by hospice,

Who arrive morning and night,

Like a hired man come to chore.

Neighbors stop by, sit bedside,

Stare into their hands,

Red and cracked from winter.

They recall the year

Of the early frost, flood

Or big drought.

They avoid talk

Of the plowing or planting,

Of the futures for cattle or corn.

The tractor, disc, and planter

Stay locked in the shed

With seed bought months ago

When the new catalogs arrived,

Glossy with promise and primed

For a year that would not be.


The Red Fox

I saw a red fox

drinking from the horse pail

in the pasture

south of the barn.

A winter sunset blazed

upon his hide

and his black ears

pointed toward the early stars.

Suddenly aware, he bolted

for the dark woods

but I did not follow.

It was enough

to know he exists,

to know this world

still shelters

the rare and the wild.

Daniel Smith at his farm in Arena, Wisconsin. Photo by Tim Peterson

Daniel Smith at his farm in Arena, Wisconsin. Photo by Tim Peterson

This story was inspired by a WHYsconsin listener question on WPR’s “Central Time.”

tim peterson

Tim Peterson

Tim Peterson is a producer for “Central Time” on Wisconsin Public Radio. He previously worked for NPR in Washington, D.C., and stays busy exploring Wisconsin’s fine parks, beers and cheeses, with a reporter’s tenacity.

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