Chesapeake, Virginia, 1891
Listen. I did not mean to come to you empty
-Handed. To be yet another who only takes.
My father taught me better than to milk dry
What I cherish. I meant to bring you my fists
Full of wildblooms: buttercups and loosestrife.
Aster and thistle wild as the wind. I paid the man
At the riverbank—his oakwood cart splintered
By the brackish spray, his nailbeds stained a dark
Blue that fades, like the shoreline, into tan.
I swear, I bought you a posy to hold
While we watch the schooners troll the swamp.
But darling, I’ve been an owned thing.
I’ve been the orphan calf, baying; been the birth
-Damp hay cut and baled a few days before.
I know we keep livestock for meat and hides,
Hens for their eggs—but is beauty enough
Reason to declare a living thing my own?
To give away what already belonged
To itself? Please understand, I had to put them back
In the dirt. I plucked their seeds with my teeth,
Spat them along the trail. Felt each one crush
Under the stone of my heel as I walked here, to you.
I know I must sound mad. I hope I’m the kind
Of mad that makes you feel most whole.
Think how, when we’re sun-pruned and weary,
We’ll stroll here, among the wayward blooms.
How right—to love in a field of our own making.
(winner of the Editors’ Prize in Poetry for issue 35)