Great love goes mad to be spoken: You went out
to the ranked tentpoles of the butterbean patch,
picked beans in the sun. You bent, and dug
the black ground for fat, purple turnips.
You suffered the cornstalk’s blades, to emerge
triumphant with grain. You spent all day in a coat
of dust, to pluck the difficult word
of a berry, plunk in a can. You brought home
voluminous tribute, cucumbers, peaches,
five-gallon buckets packed tightly with peas,
cords of sugar-cane, and were not content.
You had not yet done the pure, the completed,
the absolute deed. Out of that vegetable ore,
you wrought miracles: snapbeans broke
into speech, peas spilled from the long slit pod
like pearls, and the magical snap of your nail
filled bowls with the fat, white coinage of beans.
Still you were unfinished. Now fog swelled
in the kitchen, your hair wilted like vines.
These days drove you half-wild—you cried,
sometimes, for invisible reasons. In the yard,
out of your way, we played in the leaves, and heard
the pressure-cooker blow out its musical shriek.
Then it was done: You had us stack up the jars
like ingots, or books. In the dark of the shelves,
quarts of squash gave off a glow like late sun.
That was the last we thought of your summer
till the day that even the johnson grass died.
Then, bent over sweet relish and black-eyed peas,
over huckleberry pie, seeing the dog outside
shiver with cold, we would shiver, and eat.
© Jack Butler