blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


print version
audio version


Tolberton County, 1923

Small god of histories, make yourself known.
Clay-eater, smith and jester, bend the dogwood

down. Tell me who cheated who at cards,
who placed spade next to heart before that ghost,

my great-great uncle, slashed a man’s throat
with his penknife? And walked himself weeping

to the county jail. His nephew sent later
with a flour-sack of cash to bribe the governor

of Sugar Creek. Child of child of pocketknife
and cannon fodder, motoring past sand dunes

far below sea level, I won’t report my crimes.
I do shadow-time, imagining the boy sent

with the bribe made to wait all day on the capitol
steps, face burning from sun and shame.

The murderer my great-great uncle escaped the gallows,
married a poor woman who kept him sane.

The boy ran a cotton mill for fifty years.
As he died he told us his secret story—

saying sure you can purchase mercy sure
you can. But everything you gotta buy costs high.  

return to top