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Summer Rice

Linda Susan Jackson
They're up to their necks in fever and floodplains, clear-
ing ground along miles of riverbed, bloodred. Carolina heat
burns holes in their straw hats, leaves halos of steam around
silhouettes. Down the line, they are one deep breath riding
field rhythms Movin', movin'. Lone bones of things: a dog's jaw, 
a man's leg, a baby's pelvis; thin bones of turtles, birds, fish
pulled to the surface by swole-up hands. Hopsack dresses
singe the women's bodies. Fringes hang from the straw pants on 
sweat-soaked, bare-chested men in the line. The line shouter 
urges them on Movin' on down the line. Huh. The searing sun
drives quail points in their backs, its red glare shedding circles
of light around their darkening bodies. Foot after foot of earth
unearthed. Root-thick soil dug up along low country rivers
for glaberrima, Africa's rice. Heels indent soil for seeds; big
toes cover seeds with soil in song You told me, huh, knees are
important. Gnarled fingers of grans and nans who no longer
winnow, weave ancient designs into coiled baskets of pine,
sweet grass, bulrush and palmetto to hold the summer yield. 
Hulls beat against hollowed-out trees as they whirl in dervish
frenzy, carried round by ringing words Movin' on down the line, 
huh. Despite bits and whips, they return to thatched-roof huts,
sweep up dusty dirt with palm-leaf brooms before they bank
the dinner fire. Lean-to chimneys ride smoke and ash up mud
walls, a calico headscarf on a nail, the room's only rush of
color. Their bodies break down on straw pallets. Tomorrow, 
same as today. Same as yesterday. Okra and tomato stew. 
Fish on Sunday, scratching out the scream holler of summer
rice in their bones Ah'm a movin'. Movin' out the line. Huh.

From So Much Things To Say: 100 Calabash Poets. Copyright © 2010 by Linda Susan Jackson. Used with permisson of Calabash International Literary Trust and the author.

From So Much Things To Say: 100 Calabash Poets. Copyright © 2010 by Linda Susan Jackson. Used with permisson of Calabash International Literary Trust and the author.

Linda Susan Jackson