Not the catalpa trees, but the worms themselves, not the worms
but the neighbor girl who slipped them through her lips, feeling their dry skin,
who also kept toads in plastic easter eggs and checked on them daily,
their growing stink something she could understand as the days grew longer
and her mother disappeared in a car and did not come back.
Not the fencerows, but the fencerows bulldozed into islands
in the middle of the field. The haven of groundhogs, the tidal lagoons of their litters,
flowing outward in the sprouts of young corn, their greenness nibbled
into the brownness of dirt. Suddenly our dog would launch out and I
would grab my baseball bat. My dad did not keep guns, so my job
was to get between the whistle pig and its burrow
there in the broken trees, to use the swing I learned for little league
to keep our farm from drowning.
Not the sinner but the sin, they said in church. Always the hate was hated.
Not the fact my father died of cancer, but the fact we lost our farm.
Not the fact we finally burned those hills we made from the trunks of oak
or locust, but the fact that in such burning you can’t
avoid to stomp the flames. Two embers
crept into my boots, their fangs planted into my ankle. Two scars
I carry to this day.
Not the story you’ve heard forever, but the story I tell you now.
The story where I mourn my father
never had the chance to mourn for me. Better I was a drunken teenager
dying on the road. Better I had leukemia with teddy bears
scattered on my grave. Not the story where I top him, where
I write poems about his death. He should be the one left standing,
his hard trunk declaring protection of our land.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 21, Issue 2.
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