by Jess Williard
—for Bale, born 7/3/17
The century is biding time like a jackal, stealing
glimpses of you. In a Wisconsin no longer here,
European explorers pull ashore at Red Bank
intending to trade their way to warmth
in a late-arriving spring, the pine martens
trawling shallow brook beds with hands like debt.
Like needing something so bad
you’d claw your own reflection for it.
Or you’d remove the hands placed
on a fugitive slave somewhere south
of Racine and usher him farther north.
And in Milwaukee the Braves are up
in a rain delay over Brooklyn, Hank Aaron
spitting sunflower seeds between his shoes.
This is a poor way to start, Bale, but tonight
I am looking to you: It is summer here,
and while words mean nothing aside territories,
aside mammals fishing barely thawed creeks,
your name means something bound;
wrapped, or if not that, a woe,
a sorrow. Bale. This is a poor way to start,
but that slave—who slept along the mud-slicked
banks of Mississippi tributaries as he waded
through Arkansas, then Missouri—his hands
are still bleeding from years of threshed grain,
the binding of it. Even now, as the first
of the farthest planets begins to show, this
the clearest night in months. 2017.
I haven’t had the words in months. If I ever did
it was only in the way an adolescent boy
is held in wonder of his body, the thickening
of the legs and neck, unaware, then,
that it is nothing special. That growth
is inevitable and belongs to no one.
Somewhere else Aaron has opened his eyes
after the momentary shock of a crisp hit
to center right and can only see the lights
of the stadium, the sky above that.
This is not the place your parents grew up,
Bale. Or their parents, who crossed rivers
and borders, who were made to cross them back.
Why you haven’t seen them. I remember
the embossed jackets of the deportation
officers as they walked up the driveway.
I remember thinking, though I couldn’t
have known it then, that taking is such
an American thing. Those Wisconsin
explorers took what they wanted
and camped along moraine outcrops
soaked in blood. They slept there,
where turbines now preside and an escaped
slave scuttled between body-sized caverns.
Listen closely and you may hear him.
It’s hard to believe, but all this is happening
at once. And at once, below the accompaniment
of an absent cry, you may wake astonished
to know it. But you will. Then is when
you may rise to feel your way into the yard,
and down the street to an orchard,
and in that orchard traipse past casks
of steaming trash, cars on fire. You may douse
them or you may keep going. You make
your way. To the rows of the living
things. To what to call them. The slave’s
name was Joshua. What you have stepped on
is Thistle. Days are these cacophonous things,
places to hide or be broken open. Across the field
is the place you will go now, to wade through
reeds and chaff, to know that you are headed,
and that you will arrive, where you are bound.