Firing Order
Jesse Graves

We found no warmth under the open hood,
Stranded mid-field where the truck’s engine failed.
This work precedes all other, hay baled
High, stacked and waiting on the metal bed,
Cows in winter, like broken furniture stood
Against a wall, braced in zippery wind,
Staring out from their mysterious minds,
Hipbones like arched frames carved from wood.

My job was simple: I held the wrench
While his fingers set to work pulling wires,
Clearing rust and debris from the engine
Block, pocket knife flashing quick and sure.
His hands in the open heart of a machine,
Old plugs scraped clean enough to carry fire.


The field reveals no human history,
Logs none of the hours my father spent 
Disking its soil, sowing down seeds, back bent
Like a tire iron, his fair neck blistered.
Bitt Rouse’s sleeve caught in the corn thresher
Keeps us careful, mindful of accidents—
Blood spilled here seeps through webs of buried roots.
Subsoil remembers, but topsoil forgets:

Forty summers ago, high heat of June 
Salting the air, a young man’s good right hand,
The one that bowed his famous fiddle tunes, 
Churned to paste well before the pain began,
His feet tearing marks like ancient runes
Etched in the dirt, his signature on that land.


Under the pond’s frozen face bright florets 
Of algae swirl out and spread through the wild 
Energy of their iced-over lives, 
Deeper cold approaching with sunset.
Late November drawing down, so much less
Than it started with, early cold, crops shriveled,
The leaves tell it all in colorful wreckage.
He remembers, and I do, but the ground forgets.

What work gets done today will come again 
Tomorrow, the day after, on and on,
Until he gives out, and the ground reclaims
What my father and I set in motion,
An engine turning, our family name
Stamped on the place that takes us back in.

Originally appeared in The Southern Quarterly

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