Under the Awning
We sit under the awning and watch them descend in unison.
A flock of thirty or more down through the heavy rain
We weren’t supposed to get, pecking where grass is thin
For what the moisture turns up.
They look like the sound of the word
Grackle, these scavengers with wings muted black as painted iron rails,
As wet tar, their empty beaks flashing a bright citrus smear.
Memorial Day weekend and the weather has surprised us,
Beating down plastic flowers and darkening the family gravestones.
Every year we arrive to survey the new babies, learn who has moved
Or married, but mostly to see who’s left to sit in the shaded chairs
Where my grandmother sat with her oldest sister Minnie
For the last time, neither able to name the other, but still knowing,
As though someone had stepped out of a mirror.
And in the memory of their faces
I see pillars of stone, pillars of stippled salt,
Where the hammer of time drives the chisel of living,
The opaque blue of their eyes, each pair reflecting the other,
Sky blue buttons threaded through a dark blue dress.
Homecoming at the cemetery: they never let us go, even the ones
Laid under before our births continue to make their claims,
To draw the interest on their spent lives.
My grandfather waits here,
A Houston buried in Johnson ground—such is the appointment
He made with them. He was dead two years before
I was born, but who do I remind the old people of?
Whose picture did I stare into on the living room mantle?
My great-uncle Gene tells my father and I about the base
He served in Korea, the sound of bombs in a nearby village,
While a hundred feet away is my cousin Gary,
killed in Vietnam, telling his story into our other ears,
into the soles of our shoes.
The little birds pull worms
Out of the ground; we pull dark meat from the bones
Of chicken thighs and split boiled potatoes with plastic forks.
Every mouthful a sacrament, each taste igniting the pitch-fires
Of memory, my grandmother’s black walnut pie,
Her sister June’s apple stack cake, their mother’s Sunday stew
That I have savored only in stories.
Damp air hums in our lungs
And women begin covering dishes—the rain always seeps in,
Even under shelter, and I offer my hands one more time,
The company who leaves here, and the company who stays behind.
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