The Dying Song
We brought him home in a Hospice van,
unplugged the wires and made a bed
of mossy pine by the salt sweet shore.
Downwind of his huge and fertile garden,
he slowly bloomed inward, while we
held his hand beneath a live oak tree,
wiped his lips with watermelon hearts
and watched while he tilled
that last black row.
The doctor had rolled his eyes:
I don’t have time for crazy hicks.
Let them take their bag of bones.
He won’t make it through the night.
He died for six more months–
while summer thunder cooled his face
and fall lapped small waves around his bed.
We knew he couldn’t go, he wouldn’t go
until first frost sweetened the greens
and he was good and damned ready
to sing his dying hymn beside the shore.
He smelled like collards cooking
in an old black pot,
fat back and vinegar and salt.
How gentle those large, scarred hands
thick with sweat, the breath of notes
and the pulse of Sunday voices.
Amazing the clay, he sang, so sweet
the birds hush their singing,
the salt still clings to the roses.
Those blue eyes breathe beside the tide.
Those blue eyes keep breathing.
That saved a wretch a cough like me.
How sweet the sound rolling down
a flight of stairs in hard darkness.
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
once was dead but now it grows.
Was blind, a man in a garden,
faceless under a hat, bends to scoop
a handful of black. A cough, a plough,
children run like scattered marbles.
But now I see the deep, dark green.
A broken hoe; unbroken smoke.
The Dying Song was first published in Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal.