My mother’s a stranger to me

in the country,

and I am a stranger

in my mother’s country.

A city kid in penny loafers,

I stumble through meadow grass,

dodge the buzz of dragonfly

off cattail.


All year long

she doesn’t say much,

but on a Missouri highway,

past framed fields

and sagging fruit stands,

she points and calls them out,

“Soybeans! Alfalfa!

Kaffircorn! Spring clover!”


She catalogues

Uncle Harry’s place

with a twisted stick:

storm cellar, feedbin,

boysenberry patch, poison oak,

hedgeapple grove.

In the land of fodder

and new milk

she still climbs fences.


Marie, she’s called down here,

slicing ham in a farmhouse kitchen

full of aunts and uncles

so pruned in the face

you can’t tell man from woman;


Marie, who lives in town now,

knows when to plant,

when to pick,

how to stomp rabbits from brushpiles,

why store eggs have gone pale.


After dishes

she walks alone

in a barnyard of banty hens

and tractor ruts

past a shattered hog chute

she once named Corn Cob Trail,

pokes a turkey feather into a cob,

tosses it high,

watches it spin, spin down.


Heading back,

we stop by Uncle Ray’s.

I see her there in her country,

the girl, again the girl,

hair black as shade,

leaning over

a natural spring well:


When the ladle dips,

tiny fish scatter

in the pupils of her eyes.

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