Wednesday Poem

On Chickasaw Road


“You can’t go feed cows without any britches,”
he tells the boy in the diaper
clinging to the fridge for support,
warily walking along the kitchen floor.
Gospel truth: It’s hot outside for February
but a boy can’t just ride a tractor in a diaper
so I grab him a pair of pants
from the laundry pile.

Both mother and grandmother kiss the boy
and I walk out the back door
behind my father-in-law
who wears a plaid shirt worn thin,
holds his grandson in his arms,
holds the door for my two dogs
that smell like wet roots reaching
from the mossy creek bank
where they’ve been playing.

We leave them in the mudroom
so they won’t run the cows
and head out through the gray-green grass
to the open shed where rusted machinery rests
among scattered piles of junk and brittle tangles
of blackberry bramble awaiting the fullness
of the green breath of spring
we can feel on our necks.

My father-in law steps up to take
his seat on the Massey Ferguson,
chipped and flaked as an old turtle’s shell,
faded red as a tail feather shed
by a hawk. I hold my child up
to his grandfather who takes the boy
in his lap, and I watch them ride on
while I walk behind
to open the gate.


My child’s great-grandmother died on Thursday,
she who gave life to the son
in the thin plaid shirt,
who gave life to my wife
who laughs like the water,
who gave life to the little boy
on the tractor
going to feed cows
for the first time;
and so yesterday, Sabbath-day,
we sat in a pew awaiting a Word
before leaving her to the land
that gave life to us all.

Mine is a theology of doubt,
but when the preacher pointed
to the second pew from the front,
asked a granddaughter to hold up the pillow
upon which Mary Bessie Norris had sat
each Sunday morning for years, and said,
“We left that pillow there this morning,
for that seat is holy ground,” I thought
to myself,


I hold my son while his grandfather
calls the cows and fills their troughs
with pellets made from middlings of wheat
swept from some factory floor.

Sweet, stale dust fills the air
as he pours the feed here at the edge
of the pasture on Chickasaw Road
and the cows plod to the fence,
lowing and stomping
with the little calves
among them.

Above us, the windswept clouds
cling like milky paint
to a yellow-white sunset;
the sky rolls and rolls
before the coming storm,
turns a saltwater blue
and reflects from the wide,
dark fawn-eyes of the child
beholding the beasts at the fence.

We load up again, rove into the wind
beneath the green gathering of the storm,
a vernal ghost rustling the red cedars of the fencerows.
Boy and grandfather sit behind the wheel
and I perch on the mower
as the tractor rumbles and starts
and nudges a gate open
through which the cows flood
like earthy rain
from a rising creek.

The first raindrops
graze our faces
as we drop the hay
in an old, rusty bin.


Lest a kernel
of wheat fall
into the ground
and die, it abides
alone, says John
quoting Christ
who sang a song
of the rich, black earth,
the green of spring,
the powdery pollen dust
paint of a warbler’s wing

and the child in his grandfather’s lap,
the child whose wispy hair blows
in the breeze, whose eyes contain
the storm that brews above the trees,
whose heart is the house of a heritage
given to these sweet and broken fields
of this sweet and broken world.

She abides
in him,
in the child,
her loam,
feeding cows
his first time
on Chickasaw Road.

—for Ma Bess

by Christopher Martin
from Drafthourse