In memory of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner,
and the other slain heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.
We’d never seen colored sheets.
My mother said, go ahead, mix
them. I chose all three, slept with lemon,
tangerine, and raspberry—swirled
ices in a summer meadow. The brook
ran quiet. Picking our way upstream,
stones dry, treads of moss not slippery,
we looked only for branches that hung
low. In that season of drought,
the curve of the stone dam beside
the double A-frame dried
the path below it. Well empty,
we carried drinking water
from a nearby inn, swam in its pool,
sat with a martyr’s parents hiding
from reporters. Having come
for water, we stayed as company.
Despite dry ground, it was the summer
of blueberries. The fifth of July
the four-year-old from down the gravel road
skipped into our living room to tell us
the sky had filled with lights the night
before. They were every single color!
Bouncing, she waved her arms and sounded
small explosions. Braids flying loose, she
tumbled from her piled-up pillows to the floor.
It was the summer I bought Bob Dylan LPs
and blue jeans at the IGA in town,
comic books at the drugstore, and pedaled
early Sunday mornings with my father
to the one-store village up the mountain
for orange juice and the Sunday New York Times.
Pressing the unwieldy paper tight atop
the basket, holding it against the wind,
I sped back down with one or no hands steering.
We waited for news
from Mississippi, land
of white sheets worn
by night riders
in automobiles. Only
the children hoped.
A father, knowing he had lost
his son, sat with the boy
whose father had come
for water. Nathan Schwerner,
face carved by grief, explained
confusing moves in chess.
July ran down, and sunsets
came earlier. Rain appeared,
made firs smell stronger.
The spill behind the wall of stone
became a swimming hole that poured
once more to fill the narrow bed
of Haystack Branch. We learned
to sleep with brook now tumbling
loudly over dam, remembered
how to look for stable footfalls
on our way upstream.
In the steep banks, spreading roots
slowly pushed through mud. Pulled
in moisture. Picked up forgotten tasks
of crumbling rock and pushing
smaller pieces into moving water
that eroded, smoothed,
and polished every pebble as it rolled.
August. After forty-four days,
from a red clay dam in Mississippi,
from Old Jolly Farm, three bodies,
the Black man’s whipped by chains,
made their way to headstoned rest.
Nights grew longer, and up north,
the summer people folded covers,
unmade beds, packed fishing rods
and books, and headed home.
I have often looked for,
but have never found, such
colors as my mother did that sad
July. I have never understood
how blueberries grew so round
when water fell so late.