Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2020  Vol. 19 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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April in Wiltshire
for Craig

It is April and time for lambing.
In the muddy blocks of farming squares
the full sheep kick each other to their breaths in labor
and begin birthing. Before midnight
I will go to those fields where, on this night,
a year ago, my friend and I last spoke.

I show my mother a photograph of him
after I dream he has come back to help birth the lambs.
In the light of the picture we are in the July garden.
The mangoes we have for lunch are ripe,
shaped like punting boats on the Cambridge River,
oars dipping downward and grazing the earthy banks.
With a penknife we open the fruit’s skin,
slice through the morning yellow of the meat
to the stone of their middles, pull the wet
strings into strips to eat and to divide.

It is because I am asleep that I feel his two hands.
I can watch them gesture like birds in landing
or touch them with my own. I do not wonder at them
not moving two springs later and it doesn’t matter
to me then how many seasons are left.
I have not done the math of grieving yet.
That summer became all summers—July, July, July
heard in each oar stroke, each scuff on land.

Out in the dark that first lambs have come.
My mother reaches her hands inside one sheep
and pulls out a small, wet body, twisted in growth.
In the shock of air, it presses tight to the space
it came from, and we watch before our torchlight
touches an orphaned lamb, its dead mother
spread in an arc on the ground. To give it a parent,
my mother kneels and slicks the lamb’s new pink skin
with the placenta of another female whose lamb
was stillborn. With the hot scent rubbed under
their noses, they find each other and do not notice us.

On the walk back through the barn for our 4:00 a.m. breakfast—
brown eggs, beans, granary bread—I step over damp hay
and find a lamb lying almost still. In the fire stick light
my mother shouts, “You’ll have to fly her.”
I grab the lamb by her tiny hooves, pick her up,
and hold her over my shoulders, swing her round
and round until the wind knocks her lungs
and oily fluid slips from her mouth.
When I stand her up in the field, she stretches
her tight spine, calls, and goes to the flock.

My hands are rough and cold and strong
as my friend’s when he still farmed and carried
the lambs into the ditches for their first feedings.
In my dreams tonight I will wonder at his dying young,
eternally twenty. He is part of this place here, in me,
but part of that. And in that photograph of us,
in that garden where things were growing,
he held me. How he lived when he lived.  

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