Hens graze the back hallway
running their small heads along carpet,
a woven peacock design
dirty with yard seed,
that my grandmother gifted, mistaking
flightless birds as creatures that could render
Mother raked bruised peaches
into piles so that we could walk
them home in burlap bags the size of our own bodies.
Do not drag that bag. Later,
Do not eat that rotted fruit. The bag soaked through,
everything seeping. Five generations
Nebraska’d bones dust farmers
building squared homes
on the edge of Atwater, California,
men slinging almond sacks
and hogs too big not to kill. Drowning our child
fingers in brown fruit flesh
fermenting under big
leaves of ghost gum.
We had to taste it, her back turned.
Father took a job selling story,
his back turned,
his nails dirty with orchard and sow.
Mother piled the peach pits on top of paper
in that black heart stove,
each branch that my grandfather left
for her picked bare.
She lit them on fire and
for a minute, we were warm.
For a minute, we imagined the essence of peach
and flame, cinnamon milk bestowed
upon us by the generosity of our daydreams.
For a minute, we could not hear the rattling.
The stove came talking to us~
so hot it was loud,
Little Davey stepped back on small feet
baby fat hands not yet knuckled
reaching. The stove glowing
pink and orange becoming
red hot, red yellow, a red
that made Mother’s voice quiver
from then until her death, calling
her husband home
~ to turn around ~
because she had manifested fire
with the center of fruit. With the center of home.
It was only a squared house.
She could not have known
her power. She had the softest
of hands, later bruised themselves, but now,
the stove jumping side to side,
burning energy unhinging
from the place it was bolted to the floor,
the bigness of my father
on the way. It did not
stop. Father, taller than us when he kneeled,
shoveling out the center of stove and fruit,
one shovel at a time across that bird dirt carpet,
at a time
my mother wept
in the corner, holding little Davey’s hand,
at a time,
not knowing this would be my first memory.
My grandmother’s knock
could sew tragedy into the shapes
of autumn jacket pockets big enough
to be messenger. Held the news in her palm
till my mother opened her mouth
wide, Grandmother took this opportunity to
place her brittle anguish inside her daughter’s body,
producing a wail followed
by a quiet so deep it curled
around the house to find me
in my room. The quiet asked me
to come out and see the women
bent in halves.
I was an unseen boy
relegated to knees, dress hems
and the grief of adults, sounds
I was not yet familiar with,
gurgling up from the inside of her lullaby
throat, a gasping heave that looked to break
my mother’s fingers along the side of the door
jam, peaches streaming from her center.
Stand so close to hear nothing,
the sound of nothing but small hands in lungs
contorting each breath into sorrow squall.
Grandmother bent low to say, ‘Little Davey dead.
Ditch bound drowned
roadside, nothing can be done.’
Face down with mud sucked up
lungs, stove black, road cold,
peach farmers grieving into the work
of killing hogs,
passing that blood smoke lineage forward.