Audio: Read by the author.
I walk between downpours this overwet,
overwarm September, the swamp risen
into the farm road. Trees lean
as though they have spines that won’t straighten.
Gnats by the hundreds drown on my skin,
My father’s latest stray, half-grown
half-husky racing through puddles,
won’t last long. They’ve taken stock—
the far buzzards circling.
They know the highway out front, its many scents,
its barreling log trucks and bored kids speeding.
Ahead not scat but a spill of grapes.
Limb overhanging, entwined—globe-heavy vine
(stray seed rooted, climbed)—purple muscadine.
I follow my footprints back, my cupped hands filled.
Smell them. My father’s eyes hear my words. Eat.
I mouth again: eat.
Wild juice baptizes our chins,
and we are born again.
My father’s back straightens.
The highway refuses the stray.
Fingers grow sticky in bee-giddy arbors
of girlhood. Left with what’s left, we spit out
sour pulp, bitter seed, crushed skin.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.