By AUSTIN SEGREST / FEBRUARY 4, 2016
The man at the window
put a pasteboard box on the counter when we got there,
and I could see he put in a big plastic sack
of beans and a cloth bag that said CORNMEAL. Dad
hesitated when the box was pushed toward us.
“I work hard,
ever day,” he said, and the man nodded.
House of clapboard warped and gapping,
house with bees inside its walls,
house rats frequented.
Pile of loosened plaster and lath,
eyesore clucked at and pitied,
object of dread and erosion:
Yes. Yes. That house.
The one I called my house,
our house, home.
When this hand was three when this hand was much smaller
they came forth to claim it their little claws on it
to smell it, to tongue it to fondle with incisors
in the long old darkness my unknowing sleep
When this arm could not harm them when this arm was tender
the killers of chickens the gnawers through floors
walked over its sinews traversed its small muscles
dragging their tails like skinny dead worms
the boy they all expected
to break out of the life they lived in that place,
the one who might have shown it was possible to leave,
even for the ones who stayed
Country boy: their leader chanted it, dropping
his tongue to the floor of his mouth to mock
my accent and make it obscene, cuntra boa,
cuntra boa, until I learned that words could make me
obscene, till I calculated daily whether I had the strength,
if I caught him off guard, to slam his face
into the metal bar on the back of the bus seat,
to pay him for those weights, that name that was my fall.
Raising my hand, did I lift my middle finger,
not understanding that it was obscene?
Or was she angling to produce a quiver
in any first-day third-grader still green
enough to dare to question anything
in that classroom? Or had she simply caught
the heavy twang in my voice and so spot-
ted me as poor?
[. . .]
Come along, she called,
I have something for you in the hall.
I went. She pointed to a little line
of shiny pennies, three on the tile floor,
and told me Take those home.
But they’re not mine.
Go on. I’m giving them to you. They’re yours.
I bent over: They’re all glued to the floor.
I never saw the paddle, but she hit
me with it on the word, “floor,” two times quick.
the intimate of puddled lanes
that cut through creekside tangle, the exchanges
of shikepoke, redbird, raincrow,
little networks of wiggletail and tumblebug,
dogwood, poison ivy, redbud,
the way to wade a slickery cold creek
barefoot with a paper sack
of poke held carefully out of the water, the way
to negotiate agreement with a landscape,
to wander in comfort despite the copperheads and scorpions
we spotted as we searched for our supper greens--
to disappear into washes and dales
and inhabit them, figure in their folds,
until all places wild and unfenced I could consider
mine and myself their diminutive, their familiar.
the scruffy ones, the gap toothed, the jowly.
The oblong of bosom who smelled of talcum and coffee.
Those who laughed themselves red in the face.
[. . .]
The warty. The blemished. The slope-shouldered and dewlapped.
Those whose breath came out in little gasps.
tapped the trunk and all
that great wad of bees fell straight down together like one
creature into the box, and when they had settled down,
he put a lid on, and I felt the ones on my arms
and the back of my neck begin to whirr and leave me
for the hole in the end of the their new house, their new white
perfect house the beekeeper would soon load in his truck.
And something was there, hovering behind the bee man,
behind the sapling, the bees mumbling inside their hive.
The measure of a life, no matter the circumstance.
It’s constant, incremental decay. It’s sweet despite.
Originally from Alabama,