Lizzy Petersen


    disfarm (dɪsˈfɑrm) v. –farm·ed, –farm·ing, –farms. —tr. 1. To slaughter before raised to full-auction. For example: It’s too bad he was disfarmed 17 years before folks would see anything partial in his pictures. 2. a. To pull out by the root. Such as: He believed the tornado disfarmed him when he was a baby, tossed him on a lineage far too small to warry of, his shoes still in Indiana and covered in mud. 2 b. To dig out, as in a foundation. For example: People here were first disfarmed by drought, then disfarmed by the bank, and those who stayed, disfarmed by doubt. 3. To leave behind profits from an investment. Such as: He departed without a claim on anything – studio repossessed, manhandled, divvied up, sold off for parts, the remainder in a storage unit for a decade or so. Or: I’ll disfarm the place if I have to – they can take it. —intr. 1. To overgrow and ruin, fall into disrepair. Syn.: Mangy with clover, crabgrass, sorrel, overrun with vermin, junebugs, and children always playing games of bravery in the ditches. For example: His glass plate negatives disfarmed over time, some faces smudged up or scratched, others rubbed off. 2. To waste, without tilling or sowing or planting or weeding, so land isn’t worth a dime and exactly what you paid for it. For example: His gravestone disfarmed for so long it can’t mean much to many anymore. 3. To end, as in a lease of labor, what once was a handshake deal, a back-when thing and hardly more than good faith, is now what – limp is what. Such as: Let’s disfarm and leave it at that, not speak of him again.

Mike Disfarmer VI*

   I ask of my nephew to be grateful for the live body fixing his fingers on the piano keys in the lessons he does not have to mail order, thirteen years old and watching the rice mill until the cock’s crow some fifteen hours at a time and messing with the violin between shifts like I did. I presume he thinks it ain’t true. That I’m loading up, piling on the yarns and windies, blowing through his feathers. I intend that he be the one to crow, for to gather other’s attention is to startle them. That’s why god uses fear, red like the rooster’s tail. The beat better be quick to keep the dancers jigging, feet driving so frantic they’re bound to trip. A pace you can’t keep up for long. A speed to rival the devil and ignore the lord. Now I don’t instill too much awe, but when I release the shutter, I specifically don’t tell them it’s coming. I need to find their face in route from their thoughts and their fingers fiddling with a hem, their countenance stopped in its tracks.


*These pieces are from a larger manuscript on the photography and life of Arkansas, penny-portrait photographer Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959). 

Lizzy Petersen

Lizzy Petersen is a St. Louis native. Her poetry has recently appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Journal, New South, and Southern Humanities Review. She currently runs an after-school outreach program through a partnership with St. Louis Public Schools, called