by Karl Walters

In summer, our yard is rich in burnished jewels
the sun finds in old undercarriages and dented hoods
that rust like the ancient hills abounding. Fools
that made me wealthy in junk
gave, at least, place for spiders, snakes, and our boys
to play. Wrecked yard, the sun scorches the paint
from our faded porch and the blessings from the dry wire grass.
Too old to be parents. Too old to work like this.
Last fall I cut down the old man’s old tree
and as it seasoned the yard smelled like tamarisk
into the summer. The boys got sick
of the sap-sweet smell, but Rebecca liked the open air
and the space I’d made for her among the junk and grass,
a stump where she’d sit and wait
for the summer to end.

Even now, I am older
and more than ever obsessed with death.
I hear it in the way the yard smelled for a season,
the busted husk tires on the highway shoulders where God saw fit for me to live.
Is this my nation?
Or is there another plot more blessed
from where my father left to live like a Phillistine
in Cado’s Gap, waiting with an old man’s patience,
on his few weekends home, for the sunchokes to bloom.

He pulled me under his tree,
smelling like sweat and gin, to ask me why
they call these wild roots we can and eat
through the winter Jerusalem’s Artichokes.
I knew better than to venture a guess and he answered my silence:
our people came here with a covenant from God.
But from Texline or Gorham, NH, I’ve only ever felt between me
and Jerusalem a terrible distance.

When mama saw my new born face,
she and God laughed
for a joke he hadn’t told yet,
and often in the distance, there’s a mountain to block
my view of the sun – the Ouachitas, Sandías, or Rockies.
I know in my gut, in the cold shade of these rifts
that I carry the load that will burn me.

The boys are twenty, and I must be a hundred
or thousands of trips back and forth. Hungry
to leave them more than was left for me.
At every cresting road and mountain peak
I’m sure the road I follow will kill me.
One day, I guess I’ll guess right, knowing where
my father’s road leads – a drunk
circumcision under the tamarisk tree.

Be blameless, boys, in ways your father never was –
almost too blind now to walk or bless you proper.
I bless you in dew grass and riches far away
if you’ll only follow the trails I’ve laid.
Go out, out of Cado’s Gap to anywhere you can
be still. I’ll carry your grandad’s corded wood
upon my own back, so that you may go home
from these mountains.