Issue 168, Winter 2003
for Thomas James
When I feel the old thirst coming on
I think of my great-great-aunts,
the farmer’s disappointments, adorning
the dripping eaves at midnight. They suffered
storm-rattled attic rooms
gathered in quilts doing their darning,
they took their dark tea. I imagine
a house very fragile by sundown,
the kitchen quiet as a cat,
a rhythm to broomstick, stove and rockers
uncinching their corsets for good. Their drapes
billowed like childless full bellies,
their bellies pure as porcelain went
perhaps wholly unwitnessed. Tonight
bats drift in from the coal mine
sirening darkness in clumsy wheels,
and my two spinsters, drunk by the kettle,
having kept the house just one more day,
are readily beaming a boozy rouge.
I know how they lived; how they mulled it,
baked it, took it for communion
night by night. The thirst is always
a storm come closer from within.
I measure mine against a glass
to hear the questionable air
keeping them looming awhile. My Aunties,
my parched girls, one with worsted
eyes hitched like chestnut burrs,
one too bookish by half; I’ll join you
sorting the trunk of stubborn letters
like tea leaves, a mother’s few effects.
My Scarletts, my nearly cloistered nuns,
I’ll join you polishing a ring
you’ve never lost and never worn
it held a home so far less stable.
Beyond the patchwork the valley unfolds,
beyond the foothills the eventual town
rumors and sprawls. No one came calling.
Once, coursing the hills at twilight,
you found you’d broken your father’s mares
as if they might have borne you suddenly
past his care and the gathering thirst.