The Ceremony and Sick with Love
Jo Angela Edwins
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 joangelaedwins.wordpress.com.