the tobacco song
in a series of late summers
sweat-stuck to a pickup truck
hair soft with river silt, reeking
ivory soap and copperhead,
mouths sweet with royal crown
fingers sticky with tree sap
my sister and i found playmates
in crawling things.
the same year i scaled the ladder
when no one was looking,
chasing a little black barn cat
across the tobacco rails sweet
from housing last year’s crop
and slipped, emptying my lungs,
my stomach into the dust.
that year we searched the leaves
for tobacco worms, squashed their
fat, bulbous bodies into the pockets
of our shorts, made them battle
in the cornfields, positioning them
like barbie dolls in acts of violence.
the sun hung heavy in september,
papaw’s collar red, soaked with sweat
the year a worker screamed, clutching
his chest. palpitations wracked his body,
poisoned leaves seeping into rough hands.
nicotine’s ache came bruising, a stain
on the fingers, a shaking in the wrist.
the smell of smoke on my father’s hands
too much to bear, the yellowing of teeth,
his breath wilted like the leaves in the field
where we could no longer play.