Walking My Grandfather’s Garden Gone to Weeds
I lived with my grandparents when I was a teenager and was always extremely close to my maternal grandfather. When I was thirty, I moved from Louisiana to Washington state to pursue an MFA. A part of me worried that my grandfather would pass away before I finished. I ended up writing notebooks of poems about him. At the time, I thought I was writing those poems as a way to prepare myself for his leaving. Now that he’s gone, I know that we can never actually prepare ourselves for such loss and that what I was actually writing were celebrations of our lives together. This is one of those poems.
Feel tomorrow like I feel today,
I’ll pack my trunk, make ma git away.
—St. Louis Blues
That black dirt mattered those days
when there was someone tending it,
hoeing weeds, disking gnarled clods back
to the surface. Blight cost something. We’d pick
before dusk, him singing I hate to see
that evening sun go down, a bushel of peas gathered,
a five-gallon bucket of yellow squash dangling
from his hand, raking across the leg
of his fouled overalls. Summer money mattered,
him bear-hugging mayhew trees, shaking down berries
onto a bedsheet I spread out under its limbs,
bringing that bounty home to make jelly
we’d sell by the jar. We could smell rain coming as it doused
all the dirt roads of LaSalle parish, mingled
with the exhaust of the pumpjacks and the wild wisteria
and jasmine, and that mattered, too, how the next morning
we’d check the rain gauge threaded through
the hurricane fence wire. He’d document
the inches and pour out the cylinder
into a three-gallon bucket of hose water
for the mutt yard-dog. Nothing went to waste then.
The soft mush of squirrel innards and organs,
the hounds ate; Ma Peg would stew
what was left, sop the juice in cornbread.
I’d watch him nap those summers
when he’d come home from his first job
at noon, crumbs from a tomato and mayo sandwich
on the arm of his recliner, his eyelids flopped over,
puffs of air parting his lips. Granny would wake him
with coffee we’d take to the porch, a clump
of chewing tobacco wadded into a ball
on the handrail from the morning he planned
to reuse that afternoon. Everything with its uses
and reuses. The night sky taps its dead light down
to these fields now unworked, light with memory
of a world that’s past or to come, soft light
that can find the years’ melody singing,
feelin’ tomorrow like I feel today, light that knows
how to hold that moment in a way you almost believe.
Cody Smith is the author of Gulf: Poems (Texas Review Press). He is a former Mississippi Review Prize and River Styx International Poetry Prize winner. His work has appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere.