I have come home to the place where my youth ran out.
Beneath pecan trees and peach trees on cool nights,
with eyes shut tight, arms churning, trying to think like bats
we would run until our lungs and legs refused another step,
then lie under the trees
and look for the first falling star while sucking oranges dry.
The trees, and cotton, defined our land – defined our family.
This land belongs to my brother now.
I don’t know how he can live here.
But he stayed, put his mark on the land –
on two hundred years of history.
Our ancestors fought and died for this land.
First they drove off the Choctaws.
Then they fought the Yankees for four years.
It is a place where slaves once tended the fields,
and the master’s whims
The earth here is bitter with blood, death, evil.
My return to this place is not a prodigal’s return.
Though its history is deep in the marrow of my bones –
I will run from it for the rest of my life.
I have returned for my Aunt Lenora.
I received a formal invitation
from the Belle of Harlan County
requesting my presence at her “Grand Finale.”
It would be a party of two.
I was to her escort to the place where she will die.
Always each other’s favorite,
I will attend with all the love I can bring.
There is a limousine in the driveway when I arrive.
The drive to her final residence is long.
The sun is high and hot when we arrive.
There are lawyers, papers, so many papers to read and sign.
Taut nerves begin to stretch.
She decides it is time to go home –
there is too much sunlight through the window.
Her skin is white, soft. I think of rabbit fur as I hold her hand.
The nurse pulls the shade next to Lenora’s bed,
now it is dark enough, she is safe from a ravenous sun.
But ravenous time does not relent.
Lenora sleeps for a few days.
I stay, hold her hand, watch as each shallow breath diminishes.
The red sun sets, finally, behind the shade, behind her back.
I go outside and smoke and smoke
until my lungs can’t remember the taste of air.
I am thinking time and the sun are our relentless enemies,
and under this hard blue-black sky
each of us lives between thin layers of
beginning and end, light and dark, asleep and awake.
The sun is an inexorable timepiece.
Time itself is a tree, and all our lives breaking branches.