Katherine E. Young


 (for Alexander)


[T]ho' a Child be ever So dutiful it never repays back the cares troubles and Anxieties which Parents undergo in the raising them to the State of Manhood.

Michael Cadet Young to his son, Thomas, ca. 1769



Weed of the countryside
sprung up in swamps, on septic tanks
adaptable as dandelion
of that ilk:  commonplace.
One rare summer day silken strands
slithered across suburban lawns
into well-kept gardens
where weeds were called “wildflowers”
where neat, patterned stones
maintained borders real and imagined —
hair of milkweed sifting through thumbs
stroking, combing, caressing a cheek —
crinkled skin like chitin tough
reluctant in its new landscape.


What did I give you, child of my body?  
Silk of my spirit, steel of my hide?  
Are you roving weed like me
or will you plant yourself, defenseless
in poison foxglove, shark-toothed roses?


Child in the kitchen imitates
the whirring of the coffee grinder;
Papa pours a cup of milk.  
Every moment now we’re watching
every moment now awaiting
the crackling, peeling, bursting rain
of seeds on streamers sallying forth
mutatis mutandis please god mutable world.



(James Byrd, Jr., in memoriam)


They haunt us all, stone ghosts surveying Southern
squares, their muzzle-loaders close at hand
their ears forever cocked, as if whole Union
hosts encircled them still.

Along the hill at Tinkling Springs, raw boards
once carved with name and cross have rotted now.
Granddaddy, eighty-three, his eyesight poor
cannot, in fact, recall the site;

he clears dead leaves, uproots the vines that hide
other lost graves, shifts to keep the weight
off his bad knee.  “I swear it was right here”
he says to us uncertainly.

Now asphalt carpets the town, carpets dusty
trails our farmer boys marched off along
in search of glory.  As if marching off
was really all there was to it.
We have no Colonel Shaw, no Fifty-Fourth
Massachusetts to call our own.  Our boys
helped dig the ditch, threw Shaw’s body in
among the “niggers” he had led.

Some of our boys might still shoot off their guns
train dogs to attack, they might just chain a black
man to a pickup truck’s bumper, drunk
and rebel-yelling all the while.

But others answered the call: “Civil rights!  
Education!”  Some stood by lunch counters
marched beside the righteous.  Taught their young
to judge in new and better ways.

Granddaddy, scanning tree and stone for signs
of his own Confederate grandfather’s grave
has also heard those words.  He says that folks
his kind of folks, just didn’t think.

He tells of hiring neighbors, skilled black men
to butcher hogs.  Tired, hungry men, who
refused good food rather than eat a meal
served on a table set apart.

“I always treated a man like a man”
he says now, “But I could’ve done better.”
He limps off towards the car, clambers in
says no more the whole way home.

Katherine E. Young's poetry is forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review and has appeared in Poet Lore, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, Southern Poetry Review, and many others.  A chapbook, Gentling the Bones, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.



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