I laughed to see our battered straw hat brims cocked
at the same jaunty angle, supple as the grasses
they were before being woven into these dry, purposeful
shapes. Lateral shadows circle our shoulders
out to the bone edge, dropping off sharp at the breast.
We sit on the porch of the Bottom House, part of
the moving history, partially restored by our pause
for lunch, looking across the rise at overgrown
boys, feet propped up on spindly rails. Long past compass
points and causes, shoeless, endlessly hungry, they
understood true north too late to keep from falling deepest
south, unable to obey the vertical instinct of blue
jays and squirrels hidden together in evergreens. Signs
on newly mown trails indicate many of them succumbed
to flames when parched October corn fields and split-
rail fences turned, first orange as pumpkin flesh, then
black as the mouths of jack-o’-lanterns, screaming
not from wounds, but burns. Now the fields are white,
flowered with weeds that look like antimacassars attached
to stems, as though widows and mothers labored vainly
to protect them from man stains. No longer young,
we know what the red rambling rose bush bound to the white-
boned fence suggests, but today we agree to let beauty
simply be beauty, dumbstruck, deaf to deeper significance.
We will not talk as we walk in the blue-grey shade
of the dead, though they bid sharp for notice underfoot
in stones flung up, boy-like, shattered in their flight
through earth. Linked arm in arm, fresh from a battlefield
picnic, we go as girls beneath old straw hats crosshatching
our faces with sun, weaving the shadowed grasses together. –for C.B.
This poem originally appeared in Raritan.
Kathy Knuckles Barbour teaches American literature and creative writing at Hanover College in southern Indiana. Her works have appeared in Raritan, The Southeast Review, Atlanta Review, and other magazines.
Indiana Humanities is posting a poem a day from Indiana poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.