A Former Gravedigger, His Figures of Speech
He told us the story just last week—explained how
the fluid bleeding through the walls of those graves
he dug wasn’t water. His penultimate metaphor,
I fear, comparing that awful seeping
to his own moistening forearm, the weeping
skin even the doctors couldn’t explain.
And now, he sits here, threading invisible needles,
doped up on cancer. He’d be embarrassed
of himself, certainly, if only
he knew who he was, not his name
but who he’d been: that man with stones
for knuckles, stones like the ones he’d hauled
from that ridge where he was born,
to the paltry house where the Corps
of Engineers and their deluge
of plans had sent him, finally to here:
this place he’s regretted, the yard too small
for gardening, and his body too broken.
Those foundation blocks and cornerstones sit
uselessly stacked at the base of the hill,
holding nothing back, supporting nothing.
So I give him a plastic back-scratcher
in this smothering room—he’s so cold
as I itch from the air’s dryness,
the dryness of sweat—and with it he hoes
again or rakes, works those fields
of delirium, sees his recovery, the point
of his living, in the pattern of the blue and pink
bathmat. He says, slyly grinning, I’m a chicken
that can’t get a seed. Even
with his hijacked brain he knows what’s elusive.
He’s just dictated his synopsis for us, his two
generations waiting on him, all of us wanting
something too familiar to grasp, some handle
well-worn and useful, something
with which to plow our way through
the water we feel rising around us, trickling in
from somewhere we don’t want to know, as from
a grave dug too near another, and too soon.
© 2007 University of North Carolina Greensboro