Variation on César Vallejo’s “Black Stone on a White Stone”

by Emma McNairy

I will die in the South, in a field of corn husks,
outside a town with trailers, with plastic picket fences,
a town passed through by the narrow highway belt,
a town you flash by on your way to somewhere else,
noting the briefly picturesque field labourers,
shimmering with sweat in the haze of summer. Now
they pile into a rusty pickup, laughing, leaving
to head south with the butterflies. One last time
they tromp through the familiar furrows. They find me
while they are saying goodbye to the land.

I think it will be on a Sunday, when the weather is solemn,
and the whitewashed Baptist church is suddenly silent,
the hush after a hymn when all bow their heads. Waiting,
for something as great and beautiful as a stained glass window.
The margins of the bible are very small, and I am scrawling
this there, for writing is a kind of prayer. It is the ritual
of the dots and the commas and the continuing
hope that someone will read your words. I could not minister,
because I would never be willing to stop praying,
to signal the organist to commence with praising.

Emma McNairy is dead. One Sunday the sermon ended,
and people went home to Saran-wrapped trays of devilled eggs,
nestling in plastic divots, filling fridges and picnic tables.
Men filled a rusty truck, headed for a warm winter home.
Beetles crackled over corn chaff, burrowed deep for winter.
At the crossroads a car idled, caught behind a freight train,
lumbering like some massive, ancient animal. I was a husk,
and to the police all the fields looked the same. Waiting,
the driver noted the loneliness of the train’s low whistle,
glanced out at the corn field, and accelerated onward.