In the country,
the scarcity of humanity,
our ability to stand outside and be alone,
holds an undeniable appeal to me.
Even in the cold, the quiet can be
a great friend. The sun was out today,
pleasant on the skin. The wind had subdued
from last night's blowing. I sat in my
great-grandfather's metal lawn chair.
He kept this one outside the barn.
Told me once how he found a meteorite
in the chair. Said it hit the barn
and bounced right down to sit a spell.
Said it gave him a little shock,
a space-spark he called it,
when he picked it up from its resting spot.
How old was he then?
My age? I only recall an aged,
bald, weathered, cowboy who still preferred
to do his business in the outhouse
instead of the indoor room with water
from pipes. He told me
he knew when I was being born
because his knees itched from where
I would sit and his hands stung
from where he would spank me.
He and Granny shared a small house,
blown by the horrid western Oklahoma wind,
on a hill that overlooked their pond and
however many acres of wheat
and barley and potatoes and sorghum.
Granny's garden began about twenty yards
south of the house. Stalks of broccoli and
shoots of asparagus. Okra, tall like red cedars,
made me itch during games of hide and go seek.
Granny, picking the green prizes of her toils,
she'd yell for me, her voice contending little
with the wind and getting lost amidst the swirling
rusty red dirt; her voice calling like
a hundred confused ghosts. The way I hear her still.
A mockingbird lands in front of me,
approaching my old lawn chair like
I'm some ancient, crazed, heathen king
of a lost desert nation, ducking and
bobbing his head, greeting me in the
cracked voices of thousands his kind converse in.
He sings, the bold little critter, turns
his head as though seeking applause or
ridicule, and I feel either would satisfy him.
I have very little from the Home Place.
When dear ones die, you can always
count on your relations to fight one another
like catfish-whiskered demons for
what scraps of wood and iron and earth
they can lay claim to. Come to the end,
you give them most of what they want
just so you can go back to living
once more in the quiet country.
Shotguns and judges are needed
at every familial estate dispute.
Pick your own tool.
The mockingbird's conversation was lengthy,
as though he had never spoken to one
who might decipher his words. Tales of flight
and bugs who stubbornly refused capture.
A pleasant updraft this morning that brought
him hence before me for this most excellent
meeting. His mother was mostly silent and his
father had no tongue, exceedingly shameful
amongst his people, thus who would have
predicted him, a bird of such amazing
familial humility, to be gifted with an
unstoppable tongue, thereby precipitating his
rise to ambassador of human and mockingbird affairs.
I remember dust storms that could
hide the wheat from our eyes.
Ice-storms slicker than greased owl snot.
Snakes hiding in the tires that helped
keep the dam together. How Granny's
quilts where cool against my skin no matter
the time of year. My great-grandfather
beating a heifer with a 2x4 after it
attempted to gore and trample my father, the tears
that burned from his eyes during each swing
of the board, his fear and sadness showing
with only the thought of his grandson lying
in the corral, compound fractures, fleeing blood
pouring from unnatural holes. His protective
love turned most violent toward that which
threatened the people he believed love worthy.
That's what I believe true goodness is.