After the Train Carries Her Son to War, She Walks the Other Children Home

by Barbara Presnell

The baby rides on her back
like a rucksack, his sticky hands clinging
to her neck, her fingers
around his fat ankles.

The children are marching,
long sticks against their shoulders, leaves
on their heads for helmets.
At home she’ll feed them cornbread
and milk, put the little ones down for naps
while she stirs a blackberry cobbler.

Supper will be like any other night.
Stew, kale, turnips, the cobbler,
its juices running down their chins,
their shirts, stains
she’ll Borax out tomorrow.

More blackberries in the field,
she’ll tell them, and I’ll need your help.
More berries than she knows
what to do with. Not enough buckets
in the whole world to hold them all.

BARBARA PRESNELL is an essayist and poet who lives in Lexington, North Carolina. She has published five poetry books, including Blue Star (Press 53, 2016) and Piece Work (CSU Poetry Center, 2007). Recent essays and poems appear in Cumberland River ReviewSouth Writ LargeWarLiterature, and the Arts, and Kestrel. She teaches writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.