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.

Jess Williard’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Third Coast, North American Review, Colorado Review, Southern Humanities Review, Barrow Street, Lake Effect, New Orleans Review, Sycamore Review, Bayou Magazine, Iron Horse Literary Review, Oxford Poetry, and other journals. Originally from Wisconsin, he currently lives in Atlanta where he is a doctoral candidate at Georgia State University.