At nine o’clock we’d listen for grandfather’s
heavy leather-soled footfall and the creak
of wooden stairs as he haltingly approached
the back porch. He didn’t speak but slumped
into his customary vinyl-clad chair at the head
of the kitchenette table, his gnarled hands,
reminders of encounters with meat saws, folded
in front of him. On this signal, my grandmother
would retrieve the reheated, aluminum-covered
plate from the oven: smoked pork jowl,
green beans and always a sweet potato.
I’d watch as he slit the brown, weathered
surface like a plowshare biting through
recently thawed earth, the steam rising
toward his furrowed face as he worked
this orange, iron-rich field with a fork.
Tonight, as I reread Achebe’s Things Fall
Apart, I pause at images of Okonkwo
cultivating his crop: the seed yams sown
with the first rain, the rings of sisal leaves
strewn around the young tendrils, the continuous
weeding in the rainy season, the careful harvest
of the mature tubers. I see him hefting
his hoe, the sweat streaks like lashes
across his strained shoulders and back,
and trudging home along narrow paths
in the glimmer of a harvest moon while the night
air stirs with the syntax of cicadas. But what if
a still small voice guided the somnambulant
feet of the Ibo farmer and the German butcher
toward a common threshold where they slouch
at a table, awaiting the evening meal, two men
who share nothing but a life of labor and a love
of this sweet orange meat.
Chuck Wagner currently is a member of the English faculty at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School where he has taught Creative Writing and AP English for the last eighteen years. He holds an MA in English from the University of Kansas and an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. He has been the recipient of a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and his work recently appeared in And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana. Chuck resides in Westfield, Indiana with his wife, Shari, and his daughter, Iona. His oldest daughter, Vienna, is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame.
Indiana Humanities is posting a poem a day from Indiana poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.