My Freedom Lawn
Another gathering of the newly-wed
and the nearly-dead that clearly needed
more than food and music, which, anyway,
was better than the conversation.
Language in all its forms seemed
a rant of betrayalto the taciturn and tight-lipped,
just as the last leaves of fall scratched
and scribbled off the back porch
into the oblivion of fields overgrown
with sumac and scrub pine.
This farming family’s golden age
of harvests was what they wouldn’t talk about,
left for the cash wages of public jobs
in town, as if their sin of omission
There wasn’t much anyone could have said
that would scowl well, to use a farming
term about how earth falls away
from a sharp or dull plow.
I felt like a young fool once
again, overhearing my estranged brothers
tell about the time I drove
the tractor into the pond. Wasn’t a man
foolish to his family a man freed
in the world?
I stopped thinking long ago
I ought to be a tool like a hoe, made to clean
up a weedy row, the branching of
the family tree had anything really to do with me.
The master of ceremonies, one of those
old men who spoke in biblical rhythms,
kept pushing through his phlegmy recitation
of the family begets, a story always told
vaguely for the children among us.
I imagined our forefathers’ amens
for whatever they and God approved.
We are only blood-intimate, after all,
we are isolated by our common past.
Who can see himself in others, and not see
the worst? Day-dreaming or
demented—I couldn’t tell—the oldest
honorees seemed embarrassed
by the litany of silence between them.
Eventually, each dish of food was
blessed, tasted, and left on a table
or window ledge, the father and sons’
gospel quartet—minus the son just killed
in the war— ended its set with Before
the World Began.
Family secrets are what we tell
against ourselves in private,the scapegoats
and scapegraces pinned together
in the same rocky pasture.
John A. Blackard