“Pears cannot ripen alone. So we ripened together.” — Meridel Le Sueur
My sisters and I would help my father
feed the owner’s cattle. He’d shovel hay
from the bed of the slow-moving pickup,
driverless and pointed in the general direction of home.
In the summer, I would pretend to be left behind
and race back to the truck. In winter, bundled up
with the cab’s heater blasting, we’d watch
the cattle’s eager breath etch a chorus
of hungry moos into the frozen air.
The chore was done when the hay was gone
and we were witnesses to the wavy furred lines
across the barren prairie landscape.
I remember the weight of your loudest threats
mapped onto your hands. You hit us to teach us a lesson,
to be quiet, or because you couldn’t hit the boss.
As we got older, and bigger, you perfected your words
into weapons, making an invisible impact.
Then came the tender gaps of amputated time
when your anger spilled over into vengeance
against those you had declaimed to love so fiercely.
I remember you forced us to move
to the deepest parts of nowhere,
packing your temper and always at your testimony
that this time would be better than the last.
Starting over was the goddamn point when
all you have for a legacy is your name.
That may have been one reason why
no one knew us where we were headed.
Our legacy now an extension of mutual reputation,
much like how only female cottonwood trees
shed their obnoxious cottony seeds
to the most distant, wind-driven places.