“The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.?
Mid-afternoon. I’m back at my machine now, home from the briefest reverie, a waking nap in my absent neighbors’ hammock. I had walked over to spread cracked corn for their ducks (as I’d promised to do while they are gone to California); on the roadside on the way, I stop beside a plush wall of wild roses, their faces blossoming in half-dollar-sized frills of pink. Pulling one closer, I inspect it for bees, then thrust my nose into its cup. Immediately, I smell Granny’s old house in Jasper County, Mississippi, and see her broad wrinkled forehead, her squat body, her braided crown of hair—and tears begin to grow like wild roses in my eyes.
As I feed the ducks, the black shadow of a vulture’s wings draws a dark small cloud over my head and the rocks where I cast a rain of golden grain. Before returning home, I climb into the hammock behind their house and close my eyes. I can feel hot sun on my unshaded cheek, the sway of the hammock, the sweep of a breeze just above bare. I hear the hollow rattle of ravens, a sparrow’s high chir, the rough cough of crows, electric insects, robins blowing thin whistles from the top of low trees, sheep crying to each other across the pasture behind the barbed wire, and a distant plane’s angry drone.
I think of James Wright’s poem about lying in a hammock, his concluding line: “I have wasted my life,? and I know in my arms and my belly that I am going to die, but I cannot believe it in my head. It is a lie and doesn’t have even the truth of the roll of a raven’s high tongue.
I have to get out of this job or get this job out of me. The monster’s teeth tear at my stomach, my chest, my arm, the temples of my head and the temples of my heart.
What is wrong with me that I let such a trivial beast gnaw my vitals…and what is vital? I heard this morning: “Expect a rock to be a rock.” Now it is up to me to listen.