June had left us poor again. The heat
flattened our fields for weeks, wilting our
tobacco, seared the pond to dust. Joe
would be the only crop of the season. A perfect yield.
Mother smiled more, hummed little hymns in the evenings. Babies come
in strange ways: slowly, then all at once. It was raining when Mother
fell ill, an unexpected flare. The shrieking reached to the Parsons on Abbot,
next to the schoolyard. I boiled a kettle, I don’t know why. Our house became
filled with men in vests, they talked lowly like monks,
“stubborn like a grease fire” one of them said. Nothing they could do,
there was nothing they could do, they chanted. His legs came
tangled like ship ropes, they stretched out on the edge of the bed, helpless.
She cleaned him like squash, tucked him next to my ribs. We fell asleep
on the umber wood, our chins raised, transfixed by the sound of Mother’s voice.