The Source

Morning arrives in Louisiana, green going sour
with heat. Against the screen, oleander
scrapes its thicket of blooms,

cardinals gather in the yard, too many to count
with their rough voices, the single abrupt chirp.
My grandfather will not touch those birds,

though he shoots others with a stone and sling
and stews them whole,
nested in onion broth with whole garlic and clove.

Plain brown wrens, song sparrows—for him
no different from figs he picks into his hat.
I hide in the Muscadine vines

pretending to play. He can’t speak English
and I won’t speak Greek. I can hear him calling,
each word hitting its mark,

and so I go to him with refusal.
From the blushing spot on each blossom end,
he peels back the skin for the fig’s red meat,

he slips the coarse black covers off the grapes
and feeds me in the shade. It’s too hot.
I lick the skin on my forearm. He’s talking,

telling me that taste is like the sea.
I have never seen the sea. He’s in another country
trying to tell me something. I look away.


Cleopatra Mathis
from her book White Sea
Sarabande Books, 2005

used with permission of the poet

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