blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



June 1910, Susquehanna Valley

Far out in the fields, dusk,
the alfalfa rushing in strong wind,
an acquaintance traveling
with my great-grandfather falls ill,

dies. Only hours earlier
the road grew so muddy
the two men got down from their carriage
to pull the horses through the muck

and a sun-shot haze of rain; the valley,
like a greenhouse, holding
its wet smell of redbuds
stretching their branches awkwardly out

like the bare and lazy arms of boys. 
At twenty-nine, my great-grandfather
looked the older of the two, already the eyes
of a frustrated prize-fighter. Too far from home

to turn back and deliver the man
to his family, he bathes the body. Sliding
his hand behind the cool, well-muscled back
propping him—he washes his head of red curls,

the journey’s pale dirt running
in ashen runnels from the man’s scalp
as if he were washing a horse. 
When his wet weight cannot be pulled

from the bath, only an arm falls over the tub’s side,
fingertips brushing the floor, as if the gesture
might spark him back into this world.
My great-grandfather kneels and lays

his forehead and hands on the wet pinewood floor
that is like spongy earth now, and says nothing
at all, but hears the sound of newspaper pages
turning softly inside a carriage, feels the tinny taste

of earth in the teeth, and sees outside, the brown cows
darkening around a pond pancaked with sun-glare.

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