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Posts Tagged ‘Southern poet’

From Oak We Came

by Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

Mother comes in through a crack.
She smells of church bells,
patent leather, lilac
five and dime cream.
Beneath her bed, she hides
old pennies in a metal box.
It cost two cents to close
the baby’s eyes when he died.
Each time she lifts the lid, I
breathe the rust of copper
opening, closing, opening.

After an hour, maybe two,
the bells will ring again.
I hear them through the creak
of unclosed cupboards.
In the stiff of summer,
the cupboards sweat
a cool brown smell of oak,
a cool brown sweat of oak.
We fill our mouths with bread
that tastes of oak.
This is our body–take, eat.
From oak we came.
When shall we return?

II

Ours is the house that oak built.
Where can we turn and not see the roots
uncut inside the walls, the curve of roots?
Fight and they will tighten around your neck.
Ours is the house tucked between tender water.
I hold my face beneath the surface
wait for whales to rise from the bottom,
swallow me whole.
Ours is the house that oak built in the mud.
Five hurricanes and ten kids couldn’t tear it down.
Every few years, it shifts, sinks an inch,
never swallowed whole.

III

Grandfather sits on the vine purple porch
carving a new arm out of oak.
He lost the old one in a war long gone.
I play among the curls of wood, fill my mouth
with the preoccupation of splinters,
reach for the circle of sun floating upcurrent.
Just walking, my feet already wooden on bottom.
Brothers, sisters, cousins, we all pride ourselves
in the toughness of our soles, walk over shells
and August pavement with the dullness of wood,
count our years by the layers of wood on our feet.

After an hour, maybe two, the bells will ring again,
opening, closing, opening
like a fist that wants to find a vein.

IV

Ours is the father that oak built.
They cut him down one day to build a road.
Where can you go and not see him
rejuvenated along the highway? Progress is slow.
Ours is the father tucked between tender water.
Five hurricanes and ten kids couldn’t tear him down.
Every few years, he shifts, sinks an inch,
never swallowed whole.
Ours is the father, downstairs, tossing
rusty pennies into the fire, one by one.
We spread ourselves like oak above his head.
We do not feel the heat beneath our soles.

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