Eliot Khalil Wilson

Origin Blues: An Elegy

                                           for Harley Wilson (1900–67)

I come from the leaning jack and the shattered rib,
the blasting cap and the phantom thumb;
I come from the chorus sway of pine, the boat ramp baptisms
and the great black skillet of relentless June.

I come from a long line of blighted cotton,
squinting through years of just plowing sand.
I come from the robbing land, the great pyramids
of fire ants, the tar paper, the tin can shingles.

I come from the coffee and Chesterfield dawn,
I come from the tender-mouthed crappie and the warmouth perch;
afraid of bankers, afraid of police car spotlights,
skies turning green and packs of wild dogs in the corn at night

And I believe what they say about my blood:
a tick’s grip, mule resolute, hacksaw spined,
overtime on the foundry’s knock-out line,
the bottom dog, the oysterman fighting the tide
though every night the tide gathers its things and leaves.

          So old man, grandfather, dead forty years,
          I know too well what hangs in our toolshed souls.

          Not in the ground only are your spavined bones,
          not in the ground only is the white rind of your skull.

I come from the barbed-wire pasture
and the horse’s punctured throat: I come from water oak;
I come from the beached blue crab cornered by gulls.
My not going back and your not leaving, exactly the same.

I come from rented land
though you planted clear to the kitchen door,
though the furrows matched the whorls of your thumb.

And I will tell you the most of my memory
of you now that you live in the mirrors of your kin:

          Five years old and I stood on your shoulders
          up through the green light of the burdened trees
          to reach the hidden sunset peaches.

          You held my calves to the side of your head, held me fast,
          and, though the wasps on the ground stung you
          and stung you, you would not let me fall.