The Retired Welder Turns to Gardening

He's gentler now. His swollen hands that worked
on almost every dam in Alabama,
bending steel to fit the concrete seams,
now cradle seeds. His fingers poke the holes
in dirt made rich with cow manure; they drop
the seeds and bury them snug; they pull the weeds;
they pinch tobacco worms from ripe tomatoes.
In younger days his fingers knew the tricks
of prying bottle caps and winding tight
his belt around his fist as the boy stood by,
waiting for his licks. His pitching arm
could lob a whiskey bottle eighty feet,
and he loved the laughing sound of shattered glass
almost as much as his torch's private hum.
Now he no longer loves those things.
The garden, sloping down a hundred feet
to overlook the K-Mart and Dairy Queen,
is mostly meant to fill his table: peas,
zucchini, crookneck squash, collard greens,
a fig tree, okra tapering like knives.
He's generous with what he grows, although
his son looks bemused at the sacks of greens,
and rolls his eyes at boiling them with hamhocks.
The boy (he cannot help but think of him
as still a boy) prefers his fig preserves.
The old man brings collards anyway.

While he loves his garden's fruits, still more
he loves the oddities. He keeps a patch
of scrubby cotton to show his granddaughters,
plucking bolls and guiding their fingertips
through fibrous clouds to the sticky seeds within.
His sunflowers turn their showy heads and nod,
obedient to the bruised and jet-streaked dusk.
The gourds he hangs from twine, stretching out
their necks, twisting them around poles,
bending not with fire now but time.
As he walks between the rows, the stray cats
he feeds all gather at his heels and follow,
their greedy purrs subdued to background murmur.
The children, the boy and his girls, don't come as much
as he would like, but every time he shows
them how to feel the cotton seeds, and gives
each one a dried-out gourd with a corkscrew neck.
He's gentler now, more patient. The things he loves
will bend to him no more with fire, but time.

:: Juliana Gray Vice, History in Bones (Kent State, 2001)

1 comment:

  1. Wow. What a poem. Thanks for posting, Ron.