The tines caked with mud amaze
him he says and then as the April afternoon
wanes he turns the earth and pours in humus
I cannot open the earth and not think of you
in the backyard near the old oak
set like an elephant’s giant foot in my
tree-ring garden I’m on my knees
deep in the one act I know brings
peace he is up front with the child who delights
in nightcrawlers a bucketful of fish bait though we have
no water nearby the days I came upon
your entourage furiously at work in your garden
they rallied around your heart
toting impossible weights of rock and dirt
your sweet father covered in mud
on his knees saying Is this where Stephanie wanted
the begonias? you would appear then
sun hat over the wig to take me on a tour
here is the rare Japanese maple we found
next year these will come back fuller
in the evening he will go out one last time
to the back garden some errand
that can’t wait until first light and return to
hold me and say I feel the garden humming
I push the earth down and think I should tamp
it the way you did walking methodically
down the rows to pack tighter than rich dirt
from which later in the year the hollyhock towered
the moonbeam coreopsis floated in its ferns
and you began the transformation
each morning breathing the day
opening the earth I will think of you
Heavy, heavy in my hand, like an iron horseshoe
hammered flat, with a small tongue inside it
to rest on the tongue of a person
who should be quiet, gagged.
In fifth grade we didn’t understand the abstraction, slave,
but I knew that this horror I was holding
had been intended for someone
with a mouth for talking, for singing,
for saying something when it was time to be quiet.
There in the classroom
I tried to imagine it in a mouth,
in a person working in a field, in my mouth,
on my tongue, but my mind
spit out the image because it could
weight the heft of that thing in my hand,
or touch what once touched someone
who stood in a field wanting desperately to sing
or curse the empty sky.
HOW TO ENTER THE RIVER
Now the singing of the river is his.
He has opened his eyes and each tree
in its green integrity
bows as he moves past.
Beneath him, around him
the water is a muscle,
a heart of jewels spilled over rock.
He’s forgotten his hand on the paddle,
his arm dips and pulls, guides the boat
to enter the river, unnoticed.
He keeps his back turned
as his children pry effortlessly
through the rapids,
sure of their skill, that they feel
where the boat must go.
Still, there is a sadness
in his straight impassive back,
as if by turning from them,
he insures they will go on
paddling forever, forever his,
here among lighted waters,
flexing, opening around him
All poems reprinted, by permission of author, from White For Harvest, River City Press, 2001.
Jeanie Thompson, a founding editor of Black Warrior Review and currently the executive director of the Alabama Writers' Forum, has published three collections of poems and numerous chapbooks, including Litany for a Vanishing Landscape, a collaboration with photographer Wayne Sides. White for Harvest: New and Selected Poems is her latest volume.