Story with a Shriveled Nipple
I cannot see what briars are at my feet,
Nor what leaves from which tobacco plant
Pass through the hands of migrant workers,
Smelling like disease. Which sticks to burn,
Which to toss out, nor which eyes
Reach over the stripping board to pierce
The skin of my white hand. Derrida says
This is context. This is perception.
That I’ve created it, and this is how
I read the barn walls planked with wood,
The baled hay, and all the people around me
With a stroke of recollection. I cannot
Say if he is right. Just that in the spring
Two Mexican boys took a goat by the leash
And led it to the stream where they hit it
Seven times over the head with a hammer
They had stolen from my granddad’s garage.
Either way, after the burs are shucked,
I’ll throw the green leaves in a pile, the stems
In another, and set the dry waste to flame.
This is how I bury the past. Take the wet pulp
Of a ram’s head and spread his memory
Over the pavement. Context, there is always
More context. A woman comes limping
Into the dim barn. She’s carting a baby,
And though she’s not supposed to be here
I don’t say a thing. I just keep on pulling leaves
From the stalks, one leaf, then another,
And beneath me a widening pile as she says
Something to her husband I don’t understand
Because it’s in Spanish, and nobody
Where I’m from gives two shits about Spanish.
She removes her breast from the shirt
And offers the twisted nipple to her son.
He isn’t thinking yet, he makes no judgments,
And mouths the dark circle like a plum.
I try not to think of him as a symbol,
Or any representation other than himself.
And in the end I let it go. Even here
He is text. Even here he is representation.
And from my truck I passed those boys,
The ones who mutilated the goat,
Leaning over a naked woman in the field.
One was touching while the other one watched.
This is vivid. Everything is so vivid.
The woman with her child limps off in the cold.
Someone sets dry brush to burn so the night
Begins to smell like two boys pouring gas
Over the body of a goat. And if this is context,
I don’t want to know. I don’t want to see
The things in front of me as anything other
Than themselves. I want only to feel the stalks
In my hand, the prickling burs, the leaves
I cut and hang in the window. But I can’t.
Outside the trash is burning. The workers
Look on as I strip one leaf, then another,
Until I’ve shucked the stem clean. And then
I drop them, I let the leaves sift just for a moment
In the air and settle in the hay beneath
The stripping board in a mounting pile at my feet.