Definitions

A good friend once told me to stop
writing about my grandpa.
She was tired of reading poems
set in the Southside of Virginia. I wanted to
be cool and post-modern, to abandon narrative,

but here I am, sailing through a new century
still remembering the smell of tractor tires
and gasoline from the shed where the old
man worked on his John Deere model B
and cursed its rusty lack of motion,
which caused him to tether Billy Buck
to the tobacco sled filled with hopeful
green seedlings, and then he’d
follow the brown horse through
the cool spring fields, planting
row after row until the noontime dinner.

I’ve neglected to mention that
as my grandpa drove Billy Buck,
four black men walked along the sled,
rhythmically pulling out a seedling,
then pushing it into the red earth.

And later when we feasted on fried chicken,
mashed potatoes and snaps dripping
with hog grease, the black men ate
on the back porch as we gathered
in the kitchen. This was the world

in 1960. Poised before the fire
of great change, we dipped
homemade biscuits to our plates
and sopped up the tasty remnants
of our meal. I could hear the black
men laughing on the back porch.
And as I looked out an east window
the fields and forests shimmered
with the easy light of afternoon,
and it seemed for a moment
that the way things were right then,
was the way they would always be.





About the Author: Jesse Millner’s poems have appeared in River Styx, Pearl, Willow Springs, Atlanta Review, Slant, Cider Press Review, and numerous other literary magazines. He has published six poetry chapbooks and one full-length collection, The Neighborhoods of My Past Sorrow (Kitsune Books, 2009). His next book, Dispatches from the Department of Supernatural Explanation was released this month. Jesse teaches writing courses at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida.