“Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to do so?”
His name was Amos and his blackness stood
against the sky like ash upon a sheet.
I watched him as he wrestled out the shapes
to carve a garden from the cluttered beds.
His clothing never changed: the patterned shirt,
stained overalls, the brown boots cracked like skin.
His knobby hands, his bowed knees, walking slow,
the silence of his pain when bending down.
My mother sent me out to help him work.
She warned me I should not get in his way.
St. Louis, ’62, a fierce July.
The molten air sat hard on everyone.
I wanted overalls like Amos had.
My mother said “You’ll melt!” and gave me shorts.
So, every day I breathed him as he worked,
the sweat that stained his clothes and ringed his hat.
A sweat of okra, lard, and greens and pork,
exotic to me as his phlegmy laugh.
My child’s hands could scarcely grasp the tools.
He shared his jar of water even so.
Any icy jar he kept tucked in the shade.
It sweated, too: slim rivulets of tears.
There were so many things we did not know:
The loss to come, my father gone, the grief.
How we were tilling gardens for the ones
Who’d take this house, strangers, the waiting ghosts.
We did not know; and so we simply worked.
Two diggers, side by side, our fingers caked.
At sixty, I come in from cutting wood,
a final try to save a dying birch.
Tonight the rain will come; the air is thick.
My knees betray the storm across the lake.
I fill a mason jar and take a drink.
A long, slow draw. And there he is again.
A memory made fresh, a phantom limb.
My nostrils filling with his strong, sweet scent.