Family & Ancestors

What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is — if you’ re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’ s someone else’ s brother,

Abandoned Ranch, Big Bend

Three people come where no people belong any more.
They are a woman who would be young
And good-looking if these now seemed
Real qualities, a child with yellow hair, a man
Hardened in desperate humanity. But here are only
Dry cistern, adobe flaking, a lizard. And now this
Disagreeable feeling that they were summoned. Sun
On the corrugated roof is a horse treading,

Family Reunion

The week in August you come home,
adult, professional, aloof,
we roast and carve the fatted calf
— in our case home-grown pig, the chine
garlicked and crisped, the applesauce
hand-pressed. Hand-pressed the greengage wine.

Nothing is cost-effective here.
The peas, the beets, the lettuces
hand sown, are raised to stand apart.
The electric fence ticks like the slow heart
of something we fed and bedded for a year,
then killed with kindness’ s one bullet
and paid Jake Mott to do the butchering.

enough food and a mom

The dad. body has just enough gravy on his plate
to sop up one piece of bread. So, enough for one
supper, says the mom. She comes back to him, says
don’ t argue with mom, you’ re a ghost. There’ s enough
water around to drown a cob in its husk. in a dad. He puts
up weather stripping all night. to keep out the mom. He says

Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.

Butter

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white

‘One morn I left him in his bed’‘One morn I left him in his bed’

One morn I left him in his bed;
A moment after some one said,
‘Your child is dying – he is dead.’

We made him ready for his rest,
Flowers in his hair, and on his breast
His little hands together prest.

We sailed by night across the sea;
So, floating from the world were we,
Apart from sympathy, we Three.

The wild sea moaned, the black clouds spread
Moving shadows on its bed,
But one of us lay midship dead.

I saw his coffin sliding down
The yellow sand in yonder town,
Where I put on my sorrow’ s crown.

My Grandmother Plays Emily in Our Town

I

I am asking something gone
return: at least one night, her face

a girl’ s, just twenty, and
to be married in a month,

holding the dress’ s hem to her lips
as places are called. And I,

come along too late to know her
trembling, parting the curtain —

let me hear her now
perched on the ladder, recite

“But Mama,...
am I pretty enough...?”

II

When Emily marries, ladies in hats
drown out the proper vows

— it’ s what the play requires;
the everyday over the sacred. Even the set

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