Uncle Conley Ray (1950)

by Tony Morris

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.

Tony Morris is is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Gardner-Webb University where he teaches writing and English.  His most recent awards include a nomination for the 2003 Pushcart Prize, third place in the 2003 Tennessee Writers Alliance Poetry Contest, and finalist status in Sarabande’s 2002 Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize.  His poetry has appeared, in The Spoon River Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review, Puerto del Sol, Nimrod, South Carolina Review, Chattahoochee Review, South Dakota Review, Cold Mountain Review, and others.