by Harry Moore
Beneath the seething August heat
bolls of cotton crack, then burst
in fluffy locks, green leaves twist,
turn brown and fall. Black faces glisten
as workers bend to knee-high stalks,
plucking the soft fiber from prickly burrs,
packing handfuls into the canvas sack they drag
till it’s strutted, then dumped on croaker sheets,
tied and weighed at day’s end,
three cents a pound. Ice cubes clink
in gallon water jugs passed round. For lunch
at Parker’s Store, they eat viennas, crackers,
hoop cheese and drink RCs, riding the crowded pickup
to and from the field.
One year my father picked six bales
alone, he said, three hundred pounds a day,
hauled to gin on Saturday, while working nights
at Mt. Vernon Mills. At ten, I picked two hundred,
beaming before him, as the stillyards leveled steady
beneath the hickory pole we held.
My tears live close to home
these days, rising up unannounced when
Hallmark says my daughter
has me in her heart, when my grandson
takes the hard grounder and flings
the ball to first, or when Lear howls
over limp Cordelia, searching for her breath.
But most I weep when King’s great dream
rolls in waves of shimmering August light
through fields where Ralph, Laura, Earl, Roy,
Hershel, Mattie, Pete, and Robert
lean dark to rows white for harvest.
The vial breaks, the fountains rise, and
I have no words but go by water.