As we move through rows of tobacco, sap
sticks to my hands. Tar from the broad-leafed plant
stains my palms, layers building, one upon
the other like some serpentine kane
moved by the sun. Fifty rows by noon,
fifty rows, and soon a hundred . . .
Father says the tops must be broken,
let the sweet fruit ripen and grow stronger
without the seed, a better yield for auction.
Fifty rows and the noon bell rings, shimmering
sound in sullen heat as we leave the rows
to wash. We use tomatoes to cut
the tar—bending over the galvanized
tub, the red, seedy pulp pressed onto hands
and arms, the water turning crimson-brown
as the veined-meated, soft-skinned fruit cuts
through ridges and splatters to the bottom.
And then I feel the stick, heart of oak, thick
across my back. It’s Mamma slashing
at her seed, from some rage unknown. My blood,
her blood, running over my shoulders
and down my arms. I don’t blame her, wife
of a sharecropper with thirteen kids to rear
and feed. So I bare it, squeeze the red fruit
between my palms, watch the liquid burst,
drip and spread to brilliant umber, piercing
and hot, like each stroke of her love.