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Elegy: Walking the Line

 Every month or so, Sundays, we walked the line,
The limit and the boundary.
Past the sweet gum Superb above the cabin, along the wall— Stones gathered from the level field nearby When first we cleared it.
(Angry bumblebees Stung the two mules.
They kicked.
Thirteen, I ran.
) And then the field: thread-leaf maple, deciduous Magnolia, hybrid broom, and, further down, In light shade, one Franklinia Alatamaha In solstice bloom, all white, most graciously.
On the sunnier slope, the wild plums that my mother Later would make preserves of, to give to friends Or sell, in autumn, with the foxgrape, quince, Elderberry, and muscadine.
Around The granite overhang, moist den of foxes; Gradually up a long hill, high in pine, Park-like, years of dry needles on the ground, And dogwood, slopes the settlers terraced; pine We cut at Christmas, berries, hollies, anise, And cones for sale in Mister Haymore’s yard In town, below the Courthouse Square.
James Haymore, One of the two good teachers at Boys’ High, Ironic and demanding, chemistry; Mary Lou Culver taught us English: essays, Plot summaries, outlines, meters, kinds of clauses (Noun, adjective, and adverb, five at a time), Written each day and then revised, and she Up half the night to read them once again Through her pince-nez, under a single lamp.
Across the road, on a steeper hill, the settlers Set a house, unpainted, the porch fallen in, The road a red clay strip without a bridge, A shallow stream that liked to overflow.
Oliver Brand’s mules pulled our station wagon Out of the gluey mire, earth’s rust.
Then, here And there, back from the road, the specimen Shrubs and small trees my father planted, some Taller than we were, some in bloom, some berried, And some we still brought water to.
We always Paused at the weed-filled hole beside the beech That, one year, brought forth beech nuts by the thousands, A hole still reminiscent of the man Chewing tobacco in among his whiskers My father happened on, who, discovered, told Of dreaming he should dig there for the gold And promised to give half of what he found.
During the wars with Germany and Japan, Descendents of the settlers, of Oliver Brand And of that man built Flying Fortresses For Lockheed, in Atlanta; now they build Brick mansions in the woods they left, with lawns To paved and lighted streets, azaleas, camellias Blooming among the pines and tulip trees— Mercedes Benz and Cadillac Republicans.
There was another stream further along Divided through a marsh, lined by the fence We stretched to posts with Mister Garner’s help The time he needed cash for his son’s bail And offered all his place.
A noble spring Under the oak root cooled his milk and butter.
He called me “honey,” working with us there (My father bought three acres as a gift), His wife pale, hair a country orange, voice Uncanny, like a ghost’s, through the open door Behind her, chickens scratching on the floor.
Barred Rocks, our chickens; one, a rooster, splendid Sliver and grey, red comb and long sharp spurs, Once chased Aunt Jennie as far as the daphne bed The two big king snakes were familiars of.
My father’s dog would challenge him sometimes To laughter and applause.
Once, in Stone Mountain, Travelers, stopped for gas, drove off with Smokey; Angrily, grievingly, leaving his work, my father Traced the car and found them way far south, Had them arrested and, bringing Smokey home, Was proud as Sherlock Holmes, and happier.
Above the spring, my sister’s cats, black Amy, Grey Junior, down to meet us.
The rose trees, Domestic, Asiatic, my father’s favorites.
The bridge, marauding dragonflies, the bullfrog, Camellias cracked and blackened by the freeze, Bay tree, mimosa, mountain laurel, apple, Monkey pine twenty feet high, banana shrub, The owls’ tall pine curved like a flattened S.
The pump house Mort and I built block by block, Smooth concrete floor, roof pale aluminum Half-covered by a clematis, the pump Thirty feet down the mountain’s granite foot.
Mort was the hired man sent to us by Fortune, Childlike enough to lead us.
He brought home, Although he could not even drive a tractor, Cheated, a worthless car, which we returned.
When, at the trial to garnishee his wages, Frank Guess, the judge, Grandmother’s longtime neighbor, Whose children my mother taught in Cradle Roll, Heard Mort’s examination, he broke in As if in disbelief on the bank’s attorneys: “Gentlemen, must we continue this charade?” Finally, past the compost heap, the garden, Tomatoes and sweet corn for succotash, Okra for frying, Kentucky Wonders, limas, Cucumbers, squashes, leeks heaped round with soil, Lavender, dill, parsley, and rosemary, Tithonia and zinnias between the rows; The greenhouse by the rock wall, used for cuttings In late spring, frames to grow them strong for planting Through winter into summer.
Early one morning Mort called out, lying helpless by the bridge.
His ashes we let drift where the magnolia We planted as a stem divides the path The others lie, too young, at Silver Hill, Except my mother.
Ninety-five, she lives Three thousand miles away, beside the bare Pacific, in rooms that overlook the Mission, The Riviera, and the silver range La Cumbre east.
Magnolia grandiflora And one druidic live oak guard the view.
Proudly around the walls, she shows her paintings Of twenty years ago: the great oak’s arm Extended, Zeuslike, straight and strong, wisteria Tangled among the branches, amaryllis Around the base; her cat, UC, at ease In marigolds; the weeping cherry, pink And white arms like a blessing to the blue Bird feeder Mort made; cabin, scarlet sweet gum Superb when tribes migrated north and south.
Alert, still quick of speech, a little blind, Active, ready for laughter, open to fear, Pity, and wonder that such things may be, Some Sundays, I think, she must walk the line, Aunt Jennie, too, if she were still alive, And Eleanor, whose story is untold, Their presences like muses, prompting me In my small study, all listening to the sea, All of one mind, the true posterity.

Poem by Edgar Bowers
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Book: Shattered Sighs