The Ceremony and Sick with Love

Jo Angela Edwins


The Ceremony

I dig the hole through field dust,

pale charcoal down to clay like blood.

My father stands in cedar shadows

explaining again he is seventy-six

years old. I know this acre as well

as I know my own breath. A rough-kneed girl

in cotton skirts hid among cornrows,

outwitting boy cousins, loving the uncle

who grew Silver Queen and gave away quarters

twenty-five years ago, who died

slowly a month past my eighteenth birthday,

infection in the blood. What killed

my sister’s cat, the one named Smoke

for his dusky shade of fur, none of us alive

will know. His thin body waits

at the edge of the woods, some fifteen steps

from where my father stands. My sister,

inside the house, has supper to cook,

a bad back to nurse. He tells me

he bets it will rain tonight, then begins

to tell Rover’s story as if it were new.

His prize German shepherd, nineteen years old,

who couldn’t walk at last. Five dollars

to have him put down. Five more to the man

who buried him fifty yards from the spot

where I dig right now. The shady side of the field.

I remember that night at the dinner table

twenty-five years ago. How my father

ate more than I thought he would. He told

us girls that, when the time came, he wanted

to be buried in bedsheets beside his old dog.

Less cost, he said. Mama didn’t laugh.

We stared back at our black-eyed peas.

Today he knows better than we do

the letters of his name and date of his birth

have already darkened in the burnished stone

just to the left of Mama’s name and dates.

He cried in his hands the night her lungs gave,

told her they would meet in better places,

then lifted her untouched dinner plate

and left the room to my sister. So I was told.

A month later, I drove him to buy the slate

marker he called the color of earth.

I say nothing of any of this

as I cover Smoke with the land my father’s

father bought sixty years ago.

I listen to his voice one last time

apologize for weakness, for his old age.

I drop the shovel. He chuckles, asks,

“Should we offer a prayer?” I bend and slap

my hands to knock the dust away.

From a distance we look like tricksters sharing

a belly-deep joke, or else I might seem

a silly adult snatching at fireflies

flitting through duskglow, just out of reach.

Sick with Love

What maniacs we are—sick with love, all of us.

                                —Megan Mayhew Bergman

She understood, the woman who bore me

fifteen years after her youngest, hoping

that mothering another into her old age

would spare her the cure of this illness

she’d nursed herself into her whole life.

A fifteen-year-old girl, she lay in the big bed

on the open edge at night, her left hand brushing

the loaded Crescent, five younger siblings

on her other side breathing hoarsely,

a father gone courting in a distant valley,

a mother sixty miles away, buried in dark clay.

She put me in their places forty years later,

my drunken father pounding on her thin door,

a steak knife in her bedside table drawer,

weariness in her eyes. And when that man

quit his drinking, toned down just a slight

his cruelest words, he fell into the hospital,

lungs clotted with blood he might have spilled

had she not held him back, and in her gentle

way of being necessary, she slept

stiffly on a pallet on gray linoleum

beside his electric bed. No one had to tell her

how worry drowned a body like pneumonia,

the disease that killed her mother, and when her own

lungs sprouted deadly flowers, she cursed her child

for speaking to the doctor of cigarettes.

The bed she died in

was narrow, new and made fresh every week,

lined on either side with metal rails

cold to her reddened touch. I imagine,

since no one told me, how she stared between

aluminum bars at shadows in the doorway,

counted in her mind outstanding debts,

minimized the credits. In love, in school,

I wasn’t there. I overlooked how close

she was to letting the world’s pale filaments

slip from fingers too weak to grasp a hand.

She did and did not want me to know.

I did and did not want to know.

I wonder what words I might have said.

I know better, and still

often I tell myself she was beyond

hearing words, as if the bars held her

bodiless already, a hologram,

a shape in wildfire burning whitely

enough to kill the pathogen, and more. To blind

sad eyes like lightning, to deafen

pricked ears with thunder like shotgun blasts.



Jo Angela Edwins

Jo Angela Edwins has published poems in various venues including Calyx, New South, Zone 3, and Gingerbread House, and she is a Pushcart Prize and Bettering American Poetry nominee. Her chapbook Play was published in 2016 by Finishing Line Press. She teaches at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. Connect with Jo at