Three Poems

by Sara Pennington

Zinnie Lucas Dreams of Her School Master

                               —Hart’s Creek, West Virginia, 1889

Mr. Patterson told me of the terrapin and the rabbit
locked in their usual race, of the old man

with a name that mimics mine. First I thought
he was teaching of Zeno’s Pair of Ducks. Then he had me

write it on my slate: paradox. I felt silly as a lace collar;
I just stared at my fancy X. The wise old terrapin

knew he was slower, that he’d never outrun the rabbit,
so he tricked him, told him what Zeno figured out

blue moons ago: you can never go anywhere until you go
halfway first. Now this is not surprising: before

I get to Pawpaw’s at the head of the holler, I take
my fifty paces past the Widow Dillon’s first. But then,

that terrapin made it a little harder: and before you go
halfway, you have to go halfway to there. I knew that

was a quarter. And half of that, an eighth,
a sixteenth. The distance you must cross will get smaller

and smaller forever. I learned that this was one part
of infinity, the other part would grow and grow until

it was even bigger than God. That dull old rabbit
couldn’t even make a move, stuck there at the starting

line like a sinner in church, like a girl who can’t begin
to imagine all her secret sins could be washed away.

Uncle Hiram Brought Us the News

                                                        but even he
could not tell us directly. First—his felt hat hanging
limp in his hands, his eyes pink as bacon—he spoke
of the bird:
       I told you’ns that bird was a sign, a portent,
dead on that porch step, and white as snow, stretched out
there like Jesus. I told you and now it’s come true.

The Widow Dillon had seen it all, had even spoken
with Daddy across her fence, his ax gleaming
above his head, a sorry halo, she thought. She’d
remembered a scripture from church— in a moment,
in a twinkling
—had spoken about the weather,
the dove-gray clouds slipping over the ridge like weasels.

They both had work to get done, the widow and Daddy,
less than an hour before rain would come. If only
she’d been more neighborly. They could’ve had biscuits
and molasses, fresh-churned butter, talk of a sermon
or children, family that’s moved away.
                                                        If only.

She wouldn’t have had to see those two damp spots,
pistol shots, red as poppies, blooming
on Daddy’s back. Nor him slumped over in the road
like a collapsed barn.
                                  My daddy, dying there in the dust
as the bare trees swayed like women shrieking
and shouting at a baptism, or a burial, full of glory.

She wouldn’t have had to watch the bloody eyes
of the devil slowly open to stare Paris Brumfield down.

That Girl, Here

                     —Harts, West Virginia, 1889

The shot fired from her brother’s pistol,
that wretched girl watched it, the small cloud escape

       into air, the discharge
of powder: clan of motes, that dark swarming
       of fate behind the trigger. Loved it

every time: the jolt inside her ribs, the ringing inside
her head she’d transform into cathedral music

       she’d never heard. It would always
hollow out that stuffy space, the barn loft
       muffled with sweet hay.

She saw my daddy thump onto the road,
I’m sure, the dust rising like ash

       in our cold firebed, stirred.
I try to imagine her; but that’s all it is—me
       trying to be that girl—here

as my mother readies to shoot
the man who made her a widow.