Labor Day 2017
She cheered, that lady,
called my name—Cora
Marie—she handed me
peonies as I walked from
the wagon to the jail’s door,
made me believe I was
a hero. So when the warden
told me to scour my cell’s floor,
I said No! And he walked away!
(He came back that night,
made me pay.) Next morning
I got coffee with no sugar,
knees rough as raw leather,
a sentence of sixty more days.
That lady said us
she’d look after our babies.
Washing Your Feet
I began with your ankle,
holding your heel in my hand
and ladling warm water
that spilled over your arches
and down between your toes,
before softly splashing
into the wooden bowl.
I rubbed the steel cable
of the Achilles tendon,
the two small mountains
of the ankle, the dull pad
of the heel, then washed
the sole, the foot’s white
underbelly, and the shy
instep, tender as the palm
of your hand. My fingers
scrubbed your modest toes,
my thumb rubbed each nail,
pouring clean water now
and again from the ladle.
I don’t know how Jesus did it,
but like him I was kneeling,
and when I was finished
washing your left foot
and drying it with a towel,
I set your foot very gently down,
then turned to wash your right.
For Seth against Icy Seas
She winds the skeins into balls, the center thread
unwinding like a cutlass in reverse. She lotions
her hands with lanolin scented with lavender
and sits to cast-on the waistband of the back
that will cover his shoulders, his spine when he bends
to draw up a rope. She plans out cables as thick
as rigging, diamonds that are sure to make his love
for her rich and clear.The diamonds will be filled
with moss stitches, dense and soft. Between
the rows, a honeycomb to remind him of her
sweetness, the taste of her mouth when she’s had
her tea, the golden light that floods his eyes
when he enters her. She plans to knit
blackberries and bobbles into the sleeves,
basketweave at the base to catch all the childish
giggles of summer days, circus ponies, picnics,
the blanket spread under the apple tree’s
June branches. Each stitch a prayer, the Trinity
repeated in the blackberry, the halo in the comb,
the touch of her fingers a blessing, a begging.
Between tours of duty that took my father
around the world and down into hell,
he stole three weeks R&R in Florida,
needing comfort and consolation
for all his eyes had seen.
A pilot of C-47s
flying the Hump in the Burma Theater,
he was then assigned to the Laurinburg-Maxton
Army Air Base in North Carolina,
the world’s largest glider pilot training program.
The gliders were not like the small sleek gliders
flown by amateurs today, but huge unpowered aircraft.
The gliders could hold a dozen troops,
jeeps, mortars, bazookas, machine guns, and ammunition.
My father in his C-47 towed the gliders down the runway
and into the air, where young pilots practiced tank hunting
or nighttime landings. Or more dangerously,
my father would swing down low,
like the chariot that came for Elijah,
and snatch the gliders off the ground with trick wires,
gliders that in real battle
would be loaded with wounded men
now caught up in the air to safety.
Perhaps in the great bird of his plane
my father felt like the Lord, rapturing his people.
Once, Dad spoke of a day when his practice flight
had been scrubbed. A second crew,
his buddies from the tarpaper barracks,
took his plane up instead. My father remembered
standing on the airfield, helpless
as he looked into the sky
and saw the engines smoke and fail,
the heavy plane careening down, the great explosion.
After the war, the base shut down
and quickly became a ghost town.
But before the base closed, my father met my mother,
a secretary who typed the papers for soldiers
headed to North Africa or Normandy or Italy.
The two slow-danced together at the base club
on a Saturday night in August.