Child’s Grave, Hale County, Alabama

Jim Simmerman

Someone drove a two-by-four

through the heart of this hard land

that even in a good year

will notch a plow blade worthless,

snap the head off a shovel,

or bow a stubborn back.

He’d have had to steal

the wood from a local mill

or steal, by starlight, across

his landlord’s farm, to worry

a fencepost out of its well

and lug it the three miles home.

He’d have had to leave his wife

asleep on a cornshuck mat,

leave his broken brogans

by the stove, to slip outside,

lullaby soft, with the child

bundled in a burlap sack.

What a thing to have to do

on a cold night in December,

1936, alone

but for a raspy wind

and the red, rock-ridden dirt

things come down to in the end.

Whoever it was pounded

this shabby half-cross

into the ground must have toiled

all night to root it so:

five feet buried with the child

for the foot of it that shows.

And as there are no words

carved here, it’s likely that

the man was illiterate,

or addled with fatigue,

or wrenched simple-minded

by the one simple fact.

Or else the unscored lumber

driven deep into the land

and the hump of busted rock

spoke too plainly of his grief —

forty years laid by and still

there are no words for this.

From Once Out of Nature (Galileo Press, 1989); first published in Kansas Quarterly

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