On the night before my grandmother died, a tornado
struck Mills County. You can always tell when it’s on the way; just slip your hand
behind the sash and press your nose against the screen.
Can you hear the echo of sparrows? Do you smell the sweet-
ness of rain? Then draw in your hand and kiss your children and thank your God
on behalf of the crops. You will sleep soundly tonight.
But if it is quiet and the air becomes thick in your mouth, and if it
rolls through your lungs ‘til its weight sparks out of the tips of your hair, then fold
your hands and kiss the ground and beg the Lord for mercy.
Watch and wait for the changing of land; the trees bend over,
the grasses lie down, and you bow your head to the dirt. Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust, and nothing is as it should be.
On the morning that my grandmother died, the earth gave up her fight.
She shed her rage, and degrees, by the dozen ‘til the roads iced over and the birds
went dumb and the lightning froze on our fingers, ashamed.
But when it came time to bury her bones, the earth let her
in by the old fishing pond. I put my hand to the sash and strained. Was that
a sparrow? Was there rain in air? Fire in my chest?
A bird eulogized as we lowered her in. I brushed
sparks of static from the edge of my sleeve and thanked God for the crops
and for letting me walk my life on her back.