April 30, 2013

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  (Hamilton County)

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.

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