The Black and White of It
Where the highway makes a deep cut into the rock steep sided,
shiny black, Appalachian rock she comes up onto the truck. No
chance of passing now. She settles for what passes for speed, as
fast as an old farm truck can go uphill.
She expects tobacco or hay, something cut from the earth on its
way to market, shedding a trail of grass or bits of burley along
A cow rests on her side, as big as a doublewide. Bloated,
preg¬nant maybe. Black and white decomposing flesh, not the blue
green spinning body of the world. Or is she?
This bovine is on a journey to the rendering plant, where, one
more time, she will be useful. Not for the daily milk streaming
from her udders, but fat, yellow and thick, layered beneath her
hide. Cream rising to the top of death’s pail. A final offering.
This cow wandered out of a painting by Chagall. With her hooves
she pushes against the wooden bed of the truck and jumps over
the red roof of a farmhouse. She lands on the rising cantaloupe
moon. What happens next is out of sight.
The farmer watches as she is lowered into a huge tub of hot,
foul smelling liquid. He is red faced from too much sun, or
moon¬shine, or both, and jokes with the man running the crane,
“Don’t drop ‘er now!” His laughter makes a creaking sound like
the boom the carcass swings on. He pats his back pocket, a
nervous ges¬ture. There are a few bills in his wallet. Enough
for gas. It’s called breaking even.
Right about now he’d be headed to the barn, swinging his bucket,
ready to milk her, if something, he isn’t sure what, hadn’t
Bringing her home from where she lay out in the far field,
col¬lapsed in the clover and vetch, was dirty work. She was
starting to stink. He wrestled her with a winch and a come
along. Her eye sockets buzzed with jeweled flies.
She’s in the vat now. Only the man in the crane can see her
floating in the fatty brew. The farmer tips his hat and walks
away, ready for the ride home, the empty field and barn, the
milk bucket hanging on the wall.
He doesn’t know anything about Chagall.
Ghosts and Gnosis
“She knew the world was a stallion
rolling in the blue pasture of ether.
She knew that God tore down the old
world every evening and built a new one
by sun up.”
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Some green thing did root
for here we are
mother and daughter
walking the hills this hot afternoon
exploring the back roads
of our confused love.
in the uneasy hours
before an earthquake
we sense tremors and seek
escape, unable to bear
the silence pressing down
on us before the earth
Away from the trailer and its air
thick with defeat, I am like a prisoner
too long behind locked doors.
Out here corn grows twelve feet
under a tall sky.
She doesn’t sense, can’t smell
what she moves through
and resents my joy, the small pleasures
under blue sky:
Hummingbirds drilling the stillness
and the clay beneath our feet.
A half-mile and we come to gravel,
green trees and fern, cooler air
with a scent of water.
Mamie’s cabin is to our left
timbers rotting in the damp.
I shout “Hey!” to an empty clearing
determined to show the stranger
at my side the proper way
to greet a ghost.
An oriole flashes orange in the glade.
I step through the front door,
joke about iced tea, fresh lemonade.
I sniff for remnants of a human welcome.
The cabin is full of
the usual rubble, crumbled mortar,
bricks hugging corners,
last year’s oak leaves
I wish we could arrive,
sip drinks cooled with ice
chipped from huge blocks.
We would share easy conversation,
watch dusk move through the trees
and fireflies clarify what is
luminous in the liquid night.
Coker Creek, First & Last Place on Earth
“...the spirit of the living
creatures was in the wheels...”
Graveyards riot in the hills
for Memorial Day,
each plot heaped with
plastic flowers, bouquets,
buckets of blossom guaranteed
not to wilt or die. Bloom
that won’t mildew, will not
tire or sicken, but flourish
where the continent makes
its first sharp rise. The first
frontier, played out now, spent
and worn. Buckled under.
Here marks the spot of the stockade
where the Cherokee were herded
like unwanted beasts to die,
an unmarked knoll of grass near a church
with a graveyard that fills up
with sun each day
and the moon at night,
though the stars are far away.
The hills teem with the dead.
Certain trees watch carefully
until you walk away. Wraiths
congregate in the corn. Even
the rocks are tenanted.
The moon with her throng, her frog
minions, singing pulses of the night,
the dark life. The moon says
I have seen it all. If you are
patient and still, there,
in the woods, I will reveal
some small history: Light trembling
in the leaves or flickering off rock,
dumb and glowing beacons
warning of shoals.
A concrete slab rough cut,
hand scratched that reads:
Pearl Dockery/Was Borned
October 12, 1934/Died
November 13,1934/ What
to make of this except
poverty and aching hands.
So small she was
born at a bad time
when light wanes and the world
turns away from the sun to sleep.
When even the flame in a candle refuses
to light but gutters like a small life.
There are wheels within wheels, hills
and valleys whirling under the stars.
The first frontier
and last place on earth.
Out of the Corner
>Life is always coming out of the dark, rushing up like water
from the ground, and these are a few moments, not the whole
world. Only the bright lemon-light of a barn.
>Hunched over, a man, his face unseen, leans into a brown flank
and the warm, white milk runs past his scarred fingers into the
bucket with a terrible metallic sound.
We think we know this, the mythic past. But how to understand a
barn. Something holy, yes, but the root for the word ransack
hides in the hay stored in that barn, a fugitive.
Tonight, the grass is tall and aching for a second cutting. The
cows are waiting at stanchions to be milked, patient as candles.
There is a butter-yellow light, the clean aroma of milk. Shouts,
A rank odor at the end of it all.
Weston Bend State Park, Weston, Missouri
“...every day there are more people
everywhere in the world in mourning
for trees, forest, bush, rivers,
animals, lost landscapes...you could
say this is an established part of
the human mind, a layer of grief
always deepening and darkening...”
African Laughter, Doris Lessing
In this place
Water still locked
or a solid sheet
beneath the shadow
of an eroding bluff.
The river has slowed some.
A struggling sandbar gleams white
at the mouth of Bear Creek,
where no bear stops to drink -
The Big Muddy
trapped between the banks
of a thousand-mile ditch
and enough rip-rap
to span the earth -
twice. The path
is pocked with the track
of many deer.
I walk their way,
the soles of my boots
chinking up with muddy loess.
Each step more difficult
than the last.