Summer, Alabama, 1960

Summer, Alabama, 1960
          for William

Black gnats love your tears
but give you sore-eye

For ten weeks all serious thought is driven from the mind
to eke a marginal subsistence at the edge of consciousness

Spurs like shattered glass wait patiently
for bare feet in shoals of lush St. Augustine

Red rover red rover
let Jennie come over

Along the roadside fencerows the blackberry’s white
freckled rose is shed for sweet seed and berry

The sawmill drones on all day long
you do not hear it stop or start

Nor the cotton gin’s high harmonizing whine
sucking up boles by the truckload

At noon the heavy-lidded saw man pulls a cord 
that whistles dinner over town and country

You tie a June bug’s hind leg with a piece of string
and watch it hurl around you for an iridescent hour
On the way home from the public pool again and
again you slap a damp towel on the blacktop

This way you save your feet from blisters 
but do not disappoint the sly grass greening

You watch your father’s tractor charge from 
the field snowing a white lint over black heads
And realize you’ve freed the first bale of
summer cotton from beggar lice and maypop vine

You wait your place in line lying sky-high in the
open trailer buoyed up under the passing stars that

Alone mark the time and space refused by the unmoving
hour hand until the one-armed ginner turns to wave

You forward into the perceptibly sighing night
where Jackie Joe and little Joel await you

Whose forebears have abandoned an untenable position
where all men are granted everlasting manumission

Before the storm a sourceless green glow
stirs the air to a delicious boil of thunder

And you have but to lift your eyes to the certainty 
of slowly-nodding thunderheads to know

That the gods too once were mortal

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