"The warden says fill and you fill it."
for Lola Bell
When you and my grandmother both got old,
and she could not bear
the empty house, and all your children
were gone as well, some nights the two of you
crawled into her brass bed
“like a pair of old spinsters,” your sister
says. I am learning so late
how it was. You and my grandmother:
born the same year, and both
your husbands went to fight in the war,
though yours never returned.
And in this picture—
my grandmother must have taken it—
you’re smiling, probably because
we’ve been told to. And I’m smiling, too,
fierce with new teeth:
we’re a girl in an Easter dress
caked with mud, gripped by a woman
half blind, lock-kneed, starched.
We are still standing there, looking out.
Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, 1997
You hold bags open,
You tie them
closed and load
to the truckbed.
prison of storms.
The warden says fill
and you fill it.
The river says
and you still it.