Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mystic Too

Part 3 (this "second section" posted) has always been the spoiler, the faulty part that made this a "work in progress" for more than 40 years. No matter what I tried or how roughly I revised, it always came out, well. just silly. But two weeks ago, I realized that a second character might be the answer... Now, thanks to James (below), this suite of poems may have a reason to exist.

3. Shucks

Black and white, their brassy bells clanking,
Bulgey udders swoggling side to side,
The Holstein cows amble—slowly—home,
To the saggy, weather-gray lean-to,
More shed than barn, but like a tall church
To me and James, with scattered fodder
From the roof-long hayloft and feed-trough
Altar, and the brimming silage bin
Between. We add to it every day,
Tossing down hard cobs and dried seed-corn,
Rustling shucks that feed the farm critters:
Red corn, yellow corn, more corn. James is
Darker than me, and funny; he sings
To cows, and hogs we slop (also me):
“Hey, sugar babe, what’s your wagon for?
You done broke down, git on out the door,”
And “Hen chickens roost behind the sun,
How you gone to see a day’s work done?”

Then he grabs a cow’s teat, squirts me good,
Ducks away. (James is nine like me, but
I swear he’s crazy.) So when I kneel
To milk his cow, of course I get tail-
Swished and kick-bucketed. I practice
On old Bessie--squeezing gently; no
Yanking--but she's still a miracle
I cannot grasp. The Baptist preacher
Two blocks over may holler and pull
And push, but his white church is no more
Cool or peaceful, and just as empty
Noontimes. James would soar from that steeple--
If they let him be--a pilot like
His uncle, Will, who fought in the War.

I guess Will got himself a red scarf
For missions he flew, and he cut off
A piece James carries for luck. Pine-wood
Joins and notched supports and the sagging
Beams carry us up and up, as high
As we dare climb, to a paradise
Of air and light, and gravity as
We choose--sunbeams spilling through the roof,
James’ dreams of flight sprawled across the loft,
But each in its own space: his flour-
Sack cape, his rickety handmade kite,
Two airplane pictures torn from somewhere.

Up there, James soars; he makes up stories
Of "Will at War." He can leap out far
And still land in silage, or fall free
Into soft hay. He can even crash
Straight down to Georgia earth. Me too, when
I dare; he’s made me his co-pilot.
(I said he was crazy, didn’t I?)

Tuesday, I don’t know why, I said, “Hey,
James, is that red cloth a nigra thing
Or what?” He looked at me once, then looked
Away. We walked the cows in, moving
Apart. No songs. It was the loudest
Silence that I’ll never hear again…

Listening in church now, I hear James
High up in the loft, singing each hymn
Out loud, the colored windows open
Wide to fight the heat down here. He'll be
Thinking, “I don’t feel at home in this
World any more,” and wishing he could
Fly away… Oh, it’s hell-fire next time--
So the preacher says. But if we hold
To what’s unchanging, we’ll be borne on
Angels' wings, dwelling in Beulah Land...

This I know: the rock I stand on now
Is sinking shucks and chickenfeed and
Old ways as broken as the cowshed.

* * * * *
Parts 4 and 5 are ready to post and will appear in fewer days. (Hmm... should that be interpreted as threat, or promise?)

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