Mississippi Pastoral


August: cotton blooms.
A brutal, feral laugh
spooks the mules.

Listen: sparrows
in the rail yard quietly
build nests, one

finds a broken bone-
china teacup by the tracks
and weaves hay within.

August. In this land, lost
things just happen
to be found. In the sky

a buzzard eyes a trapped rabbit
he’s waited for. Scouring
the waist-high river grasses of

the Tallahatchie, a heat-dazed
sheriff removes his hat, shields
his blue eyes from the merciless sun.

Striding down the fishermen’s path
with labored breath and gargantuan weight,
sweat soaks his white shirt, suspenders

mark a black X in the heat’s sickly
embrace. Halting by the river bank
he heaves, wrestles open

the buttons of his shirt collar to breathe.
Someone in a boat hollers 
Over here, Sheriff. We found that nigger boy.

A seventy-five pound
cotton gin fan
strung with barbed wire 

leashed to the child’s neck. Swollen
August sun, white blaze. Today
the cotton fields set themselves on fire.

Originally published in North American Review