Something Solid to Anchor To
That’s what they sent him after
The old man and his mule
High into Clinch Mountain:
To bring the cornerstone of the new church.
But it was the mule
Who turned to stone
Halfway up the rocky face
Refused to budge.
The old man had never seen him
Freeze this solid before.
No sound stirred except the gnats
His breath and the bridle creaking
In the heat while they both waited
Hot currents blurring the view of the high meadow.
She stood before the cracked mirror
Twisting and twisting long curls around her fingers
Her dead babies’ faces scattered out
To her peripheral vision like exploding stars.
She pressed her face to the screen door
Looked toward the mountain
As if she would see him up there
So far away, so far away
As he always was.
So he left and walked on alone
Dusty the Mule still frozen in place
Until he made it to the stream
Light-headed and dizzy from heat
And the bad heart he didn’t know he had.
Sitting on a flat rock so smooth and cool
It felt like the chair bottoms he planed
He watched a trout yawp at a surface bug
While minnows scattered in perfect unison
And Dusty appeared suddenly behind him.
She thought about the satchel in the closet
Packed as always, money sewn into the lining.
She imagined the smell of the burning coal
And the click of the rails as she rolled off
To her new life but she didn’t want
Her cornbread to burn
So she went back to the stove
Pulled out the steaming, sweet loaf
And raised up in time to see a glint of light
Out the window beyond the crib and cattle
From the mountainside where she knew
He must be.
Now the sweat was squirting
But he had it, he had the bedrock
Pulled from the creek somehow by divine intervention
God rules the mules, too.
Dusty was lathered now, his breathing labored.
So they stopped and swayed a while
And he saw her in the doorway,
Knew about the satchel and the coat
And that he could find her
No matter what train she got on.
She would come back when he asked
Just like before
She just wanted to be sought after and found.
He liked miraculous retrievals,
Finding something solid to anchor to.