My grandmother—"Two-Mama"—lived right there,
a clothesline from my parents.
I remember Ts of cedar,
taut wire, and swatting laundry. In trucks and cars,
of times, I've backed out awkwardly to miss
the posts—I guess I've even done it since
she died and they were plucked from the earth, done it by force
of habit until
today, when suddenly it's ritual,
suddenly it's this.
As mosquito hawks hover above my car,
Two-Mama and her son,
my Uncle Vance, appear
in the drive, ghosts or tricks of memory.
A simple scene:
their easy grins, those rugged posts that stood
for half a century on this mangy lawn.
I remember "coke-top shooters": crude weapons me
and Uncle Vance
made out of clothespins, boards, and rubber bands.
Mine was painted red.
When mosquito hawks lit on the line, we'd launch
our mini flying saucers,
magical logos, and watch
them zoom toward our prey—Vance right beside me
like we were brothers,
like he was still a child and spring could last.
To him the clothesline must have seemed both curse
and blessing. I was grown before Two-Mama told me
that as a kid
he'd back up to a cedar post's dark wood
and play like he was Christ.
That was before he "lost God and stopped singing."
The crucifix came true
as I dreamed his boy-hands hanging.
Back then, she said, he had "good gospel lungs,
and sang so you
could feel his soul and feel that Latter Rain."
His fear about no sin shall enter into
heaven woke a wailing lonesome in his songs.
Listening, I tried
to dream his voice to life and make it light
up like a tavern's neon.
She said he dunked "old Blue" in a washtub over
and over: I baptize you
in the name of God the Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost till the dog drowned.
He buried Blue
in soft dirt beneath the glowing plums:
dirt that kept arrowheads like secrets, and knew
the way from Coley's ribbon-cane down to Gum Pond.
Vance was eight.
He crushed a dog's neck and felt the fight go out
again and again in dreams.
At eight I ran nose-first through sun-fresh linen.
A blur of boy so new,
in the bright of the day, I ran.
The wind was time, and time the matador
who never drew,
for all was one bright present. Nothing cost.
When my uncle died, it was me strangling Blue
in nightmares, Vance a disembodied voice in my ear:
I crossed the Cross.
Going home to hell at thirty-three because
I blasphemed Jesus Christ.
In a recurring dream, I see him walk
up to a giant tree.
I smile and say, This oak
gives the best shade. Like an air-conditioned room.
But he can't see
or hear me as he lies down in the cool
green light and whistles "Heaven's Jubilee."
His shirtless chest dries out and turns to soft white loam.
When I kneel
beside him, his red beard becomes an anthill,
ants coming to a boil.
I took the clothesline down three years ago
but spared a wooden T,
spared it even though
it blocked the drive and looked like it was going
back to tree:
lichens and birds' nests. It survived on sun,
arms wide to the weather—survived patiently,
until I dug it out and burned it one still morning
late last year.
Didn't want to, but I couldn't bear
to see it fall on its own.
I throw my arm around the passenger seat
like we're buds, look behind me,
cut the angle just right.
When dearest facts no longer live in muscle
this is what's left: the forcing it, relearning,
returning. Soon, I reckon, I won't see
the ghosts and the ghosts won't see me—we'll end this trouble.
But soon's not here.
Rough cedar cross, decrepit welcomer:
I'm missing you this morning.
Volume 98, Number 3