September 12, 2010

J.T. Ledbetter

CROSSING SHOAL CREEK

(Southern Illinois)

The letter said you died on your tractor crossing Shoal Creek.
There were no pictures to help the memories fading like mists off the bottoms
that last day on the farm when I watched you milk the cows,
their sweet breath filling the dark barn as the rain that wasn’t expected sluiced
through the rain gutters. I waited for you to speak the loud familiar words
about the weather, the failed crops—
I would have talked then, too loud, stroking the Holstein moving against her stanchion—
but there was only the rain on the tin roof, and the steady swish-swish of milk
into the bright bucket as I walked past you, so close we could have touched.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005