We moved through rows,
deep hampers at the end
of each one
filled with ears
of sweet white corn.
And later, the smell of cold exhaust,
the whisper sound of the steering wheel
moving through my father’s hands.
In the field, I don’t mention the itch,
the tiny hairs on the leaves
that leave scratches on my skin.
I slide my hand
down the length of green;
the ridges draw blood.
What I should say
is that as I walk,
the brushing against my face
brings the instinct to raise
my hands. The leaves fly back,
cutting the lips of my mouth.
But the smell of fresh corn at dusk—
What I understand
is the unmistakable sound
of husk pulled away from the ear,
and why I should have learned to pull
the silk in one motion. What I learned
then was to keep my mouth closed—
my hands pulled into my sleeves—
to wear sleeves.
My father asked for help
with his coveralls
every winter night.
They were difficult
to pull off
because they took over,
from the sweat
soaking his clothes and body underneath.
I pulled the sleeve one way
while he leaned the other.
Then he sat down,
put his feet up
for me to tug at his boots.
The laces were hard,
tight, smelled of wet leather
his socks damp and faded black
from the dye off the shoes.
He loved the fields,
no house nearby.
No one yelling, swearing, or pulling him in another direction.
Above him, a crow-specked sky.
The vibration of the tractor,
which later led to impacted vertebra in his neck,
drew him out.
The finished product, too—
bales of hay wrapped tight, lined
in clean rows behind him, waiting
to be hauled in.
The smell stayed
on him, on the coveralls,
hay season had been over for months.
He pulled the bales from the barn,
handed them over to the hungry cows gathering
around his truck in the pasture,
waiting for him to cut the string
and let loose the dry grass.
Chances are you won’t even recognize me when I return. –David Shumate
After I left, my mother and father switched
places. So far, it’s working.
My mother reads meters,
brings home a check. My father watches
soaps and pulls the vacuum.
Since moving, I haven’t spoken
to my mother. She sends cards.
My father, though,
calls every week. He knows our time is short
and that he will soon resume
the role of the one who doesn’t care.
When the weather here turns
and the shape of things grows clean,
when the snow is cast unbelievably
in the colors of whatever I’m wearing,
I miss the lavender and yellow
of irises, the length of road
to no neighbor’s house. I remember
the sound of leaves
on the front porch. I remember
standing in an open field,
watching the night set and rise.
Stephanie Dugger’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Calyx, CUTTHROAT, The Southeast Review and Zone 3. She grew up on a farm near Florence, Ala., received an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is currently a student in the Ph.D. program at the University of Tennessee.