Black-Eyed Susans by Ron Rash
The hay was belt-buckle high
when rain let up, three-days’ sun
baked stalks dry, and by midday
all but the far pasture mowed,
raked into wind rows, above
June sky still blue so I drove
my tractor up on the ridge
to the far pasture where strands
of sagging barbed wire marked where
my land stopped, church land began,
knowing I’d find some grave-gift,
flowers, flag, styrofoam cross
blown on my land, and so first
walked the boundary, made sure what
belonged to the other side
got returned, soon enough saw,
black-eyed susans, the same kind
growing in my yard, tied to
the bow a tight-folded note.
Always was all that it said,
which said enough for I knew
what grave that noted belonged to,
and knew as well who wrote it,
she and him married three months
when he died, now always young,
always their love in first bloom,
too new to life to know life
was no honeymoon. Instead,
she learned that lesson with me
over three decades, what fires
our flesh set early on cooled
by time and just surviving,
and learned why old folks called it
getting hitched, because like mules
so much of life was one long row
you never saw the end of,
and always he was close by,
under a stone you could see
from the porch, wedding picture
she kept hid in her drawer,
his black-and-white flash-bulb grin
grinning at me like he knew
he’d made me more of a ghost
to her than he’d ever be.
There at that moment—that word
in my hand, his grave so close,
if I’d had a shovel near
I’d have dug him up right then,
hung his bones up on the fence
like a varmint, made her see
what the real was, for memory
is always the easiest
thing to love, to keep alive
in the heart. After awhile
I lay the note and bouquet
where they belonged, never spoke
a word about it to her
then or ever, even when
she was dying, calling his
name with her last words. Sometimes
on a Sunday afternoon
I’ll cross the pasture, make sure
her stone’s not starting to lean,
if it’s early summer bring
black-eyed susans for her grave,
leave a few on his as well,
for soon enough we’ll all be
sleeping together, beyond
all things that ever mattered.