Stephanie Dugger 



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.


Baling Hay

My father asked for help
                                         with his coveralls
                                         every winter night. 
                                                                                 They were difficult 
to pull off 
because they took over, 
                                                        stuck tight
                                                        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 
                                                        and dirt, 
                          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, 
                                                                                    even after
                            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.


Photo Negative

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. 


return to poetry                 home