by Eric Smith
On her rocker’s each forward pitch
she glimpses the scuffed toes of shoes down the hall,
unlaced, empty, still at the foot of the bed,
a very old cliché, like the clean-walled hole
they pressed him into with stray prayers
and silk daffodils and a few square feet
of respectable sod.
Deftly, with palsied grace, her hands,
knotted nautical tackle, haul up the thread and turn it
back into the patchwork draped over immovable legs.
She is remembering...It was so…It was not so…
Like stories whispered mother-hush in nightlight to stave off
the ragged, fussing ghost, or to call him
by his secret name.
The thirties weathered them both to a knife-edge,
but him they left without corn nor hay nor faith, only
children without shoes, bloodless warm sun,
and the fear that soured his chaffed hands full of seed.
Mountain people do not pray, really, being mountain people,
who know intimately God’s jealousy like a tooth in the neck.
And so he did not pray, but spat until his mouth was cotton
and dug until the dirt underneath split his fingernails open pink,
until the plow, dragged over a vein of stone, cracked finally and rang
like a bell in the empty field. But he brought up enough, conjured, pulled,
willed up enough, and she watched and poured whiskey
over the blackened split fingers and mouthed wet prayer into her pillow
when he talked to the earth in his sleep.
Love is the needle pumped up and back; the bloodless
soft socket, the memory of a tooth; limp shirts and trousers hung
on meat hooks in the closets; the silence of every door in its jamb;
the shell briar pipe, cracked shank, toothmarks in the bit; the greased
half-moon thumb-print on the soap dish; the need,
hopeless and terrible and old.
The auger pulled him down in December, tore off his left leg at the hip.
Slipped in the mud, a thick and distended boot track
smeared to the black posthole’s crude lip and down.
Rocking, she thought, had in fact known, that if opened up
he would have slugs of ice in his veins, but it was only blood
after all, and he only one small dead man
in a field, on a table, in a hole.