A Former Gravedigger, His Figures of Speech

Sara Pennington

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
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SARA PENNINGTON is a native of West Virginia and a graduate of Marshall University and Ohio University. Her poems have appeared in La Petitie Zine, Nantahala, and Kestrel, and in the anthology Wild Sweet Notes II: More Great Poetry from West Virginia (Publisher’s Place, 2004). She lives in Tallahassee, Florida.