Where Things Came From

Where Things Came From

Summer. It seemed always
summer—hot wind driving
east from the prairies, heavy

with rain that refused to fall
to earth until it struck out
like a black snake poked one time

too many with a sharp stick,
the warning reverberations
ignored. Then slanting sheets

dropped and needles of rain
punctured the cinder dust,
stirring up that dark scent

of thirsty earth and water.
Mother lugged a washtub
to the corner of the house

beneath the gushing eaves,
to gather sweet rainwater
for the garden and the wash

while I splashed knee-deep in ditches.
But mostly it was hot. Sticky
tar boiled up black and tacky

between the lumps of limestone
gravel cast across the road,
tar that reeked of crude and burned

the feet of little barefoot girls
who dared to cross the heat
to feed the flock of neighbor’s

lambs and rub their oily heads.
Sometimes a rock would shine
like gold and hold the shadow

of a bone or fin, some tiny life
etched against the face of stone.
Then August came again.

I’d meant to ask how fishes
pressed their feathered tails to mud
a hundred million years ago

and turned to tar, then stone.
Then mother pulled brown paper
sacks over my bare feet and snapped

tan rubber bands around my
bony shins to hold the bags
in place. I tramped once more

across the gummy road to find
the meadow empty. Returned
to mother humming at the stove

as she had done each night
of my young life—the floor was mopped,
the garden picked, fresh rye

bread on the board. This I ate,
refused the liver, and never
did I ask about the lambs.