To those who plead Not guilty I say: a poem
is a field. Exhibit #1: I haven’t said a thing
about my hand in murder. I repeat: a poem
is a field. And inside this particular field a man
yells “Hee!” to urge a bull toward the border
between the unpaved earth and the road.
When the bull reaches the end of the field,
the animal turns. The man, my uncle, gets up
early to start the work and finish by noon
then polish off a bottle of rum at a card game
with his boys. But first, at some point, the bull
will get tired and my uncle will hitch a second
bull to the plow. The poem is a field. What enters
the field enters the poem—the man, my uncle,
his several beasts, the plow. But then a boy,
my cousin, comes running to tell my uncle
a man is dead. The bull stops working. A man,
a bull, a boy are standing in the middle of a field
and what’s entered is the news of a murder.
The boy won’t bring the name of the shooter
though he knows who he is and who paid him.
The man, my uncle, looks out at the hills then
at the boy who brought the news and who is
weeping now. If I think I’m not guilty then
how come you still don’t know where I stand.
The ditch is in the field. So is the road. My uncle
yokes a third bull and moves on. In lecture halls,
I was taught I can make a field appear. I was told
to erase myself from the field. And then, just
outside my family’s smoky village, I entered
a real field with hip-high cogon grass. I followed
my uncle and cousin who slashed a path. I carried
a real bucket and a real blade and three children
hurried behind me. They called this field holy
because it belongs both to the newly murdered
and the decades-long dead. If you’ve chosen
to erase yourself from slate, I already know
where you stand. I was taught to sweep the crypts
of our beloveds then kneel at their stones to rinse
their death dates with fresh water and scrape
with a knife the contours of each letter etched
in granite until our family’s name came clean.
Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.