Today at my house, the air is clean and so is the brown grass. You get off work early and drop by, red clay still on the knees of your jeans. Barefoot, we run to the steep hill where scraggly evergreens dot the field. We flop down together under the sleepy blue sky, and your arm reaches around my stomach. Your hands are rough, chapped from the wind, but it doesn’t bother me one bit.
In the winter, I tell you what I really think, and laugh loudly. You point to which clouds look like Robinhood and Little John, and when I disagree, you tickle my ribs. We are restless schoolchildren pining for summer.
After the last frost, I will take my little shovel and break sod for the cut flower garden. It’s for the wedding bouquets. It’s because I am convinced it’s a worthwhile endeavor to promise your life to someone. The white sun is hot as we daydream about cabins, dinner parties, and babies, but the chill of the damp ground keeps us from catnapping. Daylight is scarce.
Earlier this winter, we went to a funeral on my birthday. She was an old, old woman, an aunt of my mother’s. Behind that little mountain church, I held your hand, watching the grandchildren smoke cigarettes and play in the soggy patches of snow.
The generations of women before me are a heavy weight on my chest. You showed me a picture of your great-grandfather once, as he smiled beside his wife. The same softness is in your eyes now, and it brings me courage; I think this can be a good life. The air burns in my lungs this time of year, but somehow the promise of you numbs me, and warms me, and gives me a new strength.
Lying in the grass now, I trace your crow’s feet and whisper every name I’ve ever loved.
Like wild mustangs, we’re frisky in the winter, tossing our heads and turning quickly on our heels. Every decision— the lonely early mornings, the overtime graveyard shifts— drive us closer to a life, sometime soon, where you and I can run up the hills untethered. The sound of our galloping rings ever clearer.
Freshwater pearls in a tricolor string.
Yes, I’m the girl he’s buying the ring for.
Pearls are the last thing you put on
and the first thing you take off.
Funny to think I’ll have a stone on my hand,
then come summer, a silver wedding band.
’Til then, I wear three colors of pearls on a string,
it’s hard to believe that steady girl is me.
I’ve never had nothing so nice before.
How nice, how very nice, just to be looked after.
My mom watches my wrist, the pearls, when I’m getting ready,
and whatever the look is in her eyes, I don’t know it.
“He’s a good one, Mom.” Then, “I’m sorry, Mom.”
Through tears, “Well, who do you think prayed him into your life?”
Pearls lose their luster through contact with skin.
It’s best to store them in a silk pouch.
Your sister lay on my lap
after we climbed the plateau.
She is sturdy but tired and
your flask hovers over her lips.
Your eyes are a deep, deep pond today,
searching the western horizon for clouds.
I stroke her hair as you once stroked mine
and her pale eyelids flutter with dreams.
The light is all shades of pink and
this is the type of place we would have danced.
I stop searching your face for comfort
and I whisper to your sister on my lap.
Don’t you know, little girl?
Your yes to one adventure
is a no to another.
Vigil in April
We stayed up all night with you. I thought I’d be afraid to wash your cold skin, but I wasn’t. The warm water smelled like lavender and childhood. To care for you wasn’t a dreaded chore, it was a blessing. And one of our friends brought an apple cake with white icing.
We took turns reading your favorite books to you aloud, every line save for your handwriting in the margins. This we read only to ourselves. It ached as your precious words burrowed in my chest, but in my heart, they planted a song. The song wandered in the conversations of our friends and family around us in the room, changing form and melody, like a river swirling around stones. This was the song we heard in ourselves. We hoped you could hear it, too. To make a mournful noise seemed horribly out of place.
The next day, as loved ones came and went, the sunshine streamed down the hallway through the front door. Someone set a crystal vase of fresh tulips on your nightstand. The clock struck 8 a.m. You had a smile on your lips then, and that was the gift for which I am most grateful.
Beater in the driveway
One yellow headlight out
Fogging up the windshield
Both real good kids for sure
Not even touching only
Holding her hand gentle
Birdlike not wasting hours
Porch light tells them it’s nine
He tells her sometime in June
Ain’t never seen her body
Only kissed her soft jaw
Working six days a week
Putting back a little
Each of them what they can
Since they’re sure what they want
Can’t wait much longer now
Every second heavy
One long hug in the yard
Heart beats keys jingle
She feeds the cats watches
The window reflection
One headlight backing up
Soon folks can’t say nothing
Young Man 18 Years Old
Goodness knows you’re a real good man.
If you can’t fix what’s broke, nobody can.
You’re made of the right stuff, got a good mind.
Don’t wanna work for nothing on another man’s dime.
Said, you’d put a ring on her finger ’fore the winter’s up.
Put a ring on her finger if she’d hold still long enough.
You gonna start putting up walls and laying down a floor.
Fill the seats around the table, that’s what you came here for.
A man builds a turret with each
swing of his hammer,
with the strength of his back.
He stands with his jaw set
and a gleam in his eye,
laughing at the expense of others.
A man’s kindness is a courtesy
out of principle and virtue;
his integrity hails from a heart of stone.
Though he loves his brother dearly,
each has his own turret,
his own castle to defend.
But lo! within that strong fortress
who dwells in safety,
but the fair maiden of his affections?
Though he understands not her
gentle thoughts and ways,
his heart waxes soft for her.
The maiden wishes she and the man
to each other were more akin,
for his callous ways are a mystery.
But he stands before her, behind her,
beside her, he is her turret;
he smiles for none but she.
His mother’s firm hand and his father’s
hard work made him to be a man,
to be the maiden’s strength.
A man is the forcefulness and the
purpose behind a maiden’s compassion,
and she is the object of his sufferings.
Bearing their burdens
They greet me with the same rehearsed lines as last Sunday. Still, I shake their hands warmly, holding my head high. I used to hate every last one of them, and for what? For being the same things I often am— unsure of how to help, painfully mortal, longing to be of some eternal use. All this, hidden in the obligatory: “We missed you last week. Are you still working? What a nice sweater!” They are trying, and for that I cannot fault them.
I regret not realizing sooner that the gnarled hands I shake, and the soft ones, from the skillful veterinarian’s, to the gangly elementary school boy’s— they are all precious, and human, and pulsing with life, and they each have the same wonder as they take my own small hand in theirs. What’s more, we all secretly hate the long sermons, but love to sing “How Great Thou Art,” and truly just want to go home and nap for the rest of the afternoon.
Why did I never realize that with these acquaintances, whom I see every week but scarcely know, I share the dread in my heart, and the peace, too? The dairy farmer and the choir teacher and the young mother with 3 small children, they feel the same things I do, even as we laugh forcedly, and make our way to the door to shake the pastor’s hand. It is all too easy to be deceived into thinking my own depraved darkness is more profound than theirs, or my joy more important. I regret not lending a sympathetic ear, if only for a moment, and a more forceful smile. Perhaps this is what is meant by, “Bear one another’s burdens.” How could theirs be too heavy, far too problematic for me to carry, if they are the same as mine? And how often the weight on my shoulders is eased, by simply the kind “Hello” of the old pianist, or the polite nod of the teenaged boy in the cowboy boots! How hard can it really be to show kindness, despite my own hurt? How very difficult? I purpose in myself, more intently and more often, to at least care.
Who wants a true story?
I only want to write things if they’re true, but sometimes, I’m tempted to lie. I wonder if anyone really wants to hear the truth. Because what’s true to me is the cold bacon grease congealed in the pan on the stove. The constant whirr of the ceiling fan, and the fact that my grandparents are still alive. I don’t smoke or gamble or even know many people who do. My boyfriend always picks up the tab, no 50/50 here. And yes, I’m still working on my associate’s degree, 3 years later, sleeping in my childhood bedroom with the pink curtain hanging in the doorway. And I can’t think of much else to say that wouldn’t be lies, so I’ll keep on writing about the things I know. And whether or not it’s worth reading, I’ll leave that up to you.