And then there was the student who sat
front row, right in the center. A teardrop
tattooed at one eye’s edge, he never
stopped asking questions and so, over
time, I started to believe in Ecclesiastes--
equating sorrow with an unquenchable
thirst for knowledge. Some students
resented him. Others simply stopped
paying attention as I attempted to
give him answers. Eventually, I had
to apologize for sometimes ignoring his
eager face as I looked out past him.
He didn’t seem to mind. He got that
a lot, he said. Near the end of the semester,
after an hour of Hopkins, a poet
of deprivation, guilt, and praise
few seemed to care for, he stayed
behind while everyone else hurried out.
He wanted to tell me about his
grandmother—the first old person
he’d ever met. At first, he was really
frightened by her red watery eyes
and bumped up purple veins
but then, as he continued to watch
her blotched hands wildly waving out
a magical tale, he suddenly realized
how interesting and wonderful she was,
so the poem we’d discussed that day
always made him think of her and
that’s why it spoke to him, which he
thought he’d let me know. I thanked
him, and after he took his bag and left,
I stood in front of the green chalkboard,
white stubs nestled in a dusty heap
like so many extinguished cigarettes
while a new room appeared in my mind.
Each year, more of the garden
turns to grass as their backs bend
down and arthritis claims their
hands. Yet they are industrious
as ever, rolling out wheelbarrow,
hoe, and rake early each morning
this spring. They work in flannel
shirts and wide brimmed hats
which smother the face in shade,
laboring side by side and apart,
doing what they can manage.
Yesterday afternoon I saw them
with a new bush, its roots still
wrapped in burlap. When they
finally decided just where to
place it, one dug with a
shovel while the other rested.
The spade kept passing, back
and forth, back and forth,
back and forth—til there was
eventually enough space
for a living thing to breathe.
again, in the preacher’s yard across the street.
He takes one day off a week, given that the
day of rest, for him, is not. He uses it to
shoot hoops half-heartedly, wash the car,
set the ladder against the house to adjust
the drain which almost unhooked itself
from the eave during the last big storm.
Ravens who peck absentmindedly, going
to and fro, leaving no marks in the grass.
I know I have questioned the whereabouts
of things, the goodness of things, not liked
the ooze flowing out of the pie crust.
The Irises, ragged, have singed tips and
summer is gone. More lines around my
eyes. But it’s not a story anymore. The dust
rolling in behind the closet door, the
way tree branches crowd out the sky.
Jennifer Blair has published in Copper Nickel, New South, Tulane Review, Rattle, and the James Dickey Review among others. She teaches at the University of Georgia.