Hearding Frogs


Twice in my life, I saw
my dad’s penis. When
I was five, we peed

together in the old
bathroom, a converted
center hallway, walled

and plumbed, part
of a former dogtrot
hauled up our hill

with mules and logs
when the road to town
was straightened and

paved. I remember it,
then, something like
a fence post, set

sturdy and strong
at the crown of his
legs. But thirty-five

years later, when
he lay a patient
in bed at Archibald,

when the nurse raised
the sheet degree by
by slow degree, when

I could not look
away, I saw a tired,
cold bullfrog, no

chorus or lek left,
resting on his haunches,
gathering strength

to make that final
leap into the pond.


All the Teaming Herds


All the Teaming Herds

My grandfather, Russell Jackson
Smith turned 133 this year—

he’s dead, of course, but still
so young by cosmic standards.

For example, the farther we look
into the universe we find

light so old it makes us shiver
with the cold thrill of space,

much like Hubble felt in 1922
on top of Mount Wilson

observing the pulse of Andromeda’s
Cepheid Variables, proving

what seemed nebulous was not
and no part of our own

Milky Way. The world is big,
and bigger still when we leave,

as my grandfather did
April 1st of ’48, standing

by the washed-out bridge
over Lost Creek, wondering

about his fields and crops,
remarking how the bream

were teaming in bright-scaled
herds through the opaque

waters when the vessel burst
in his head like a failing star.

The Sum of All Things


The Sum of All Things

In 1934, Roosevelt put an end
to farm foreclosures. Federal agents
killed Bonnie, Clyde, Dillinger,

and Pretty Boy Floyd. In May,
a Black Blizzard blew most of Texas,
Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas,

grain by grain, into the Atlantic.
Hitler became Führer of the masses, and
two broken-hearted Lindberghs

still fled from the press. My dad,
who turned six that year,
started first grade and reveled

in the smell of gas exhaust
on the bus ride to town, even though
country kids were packed like pigs

on the long facing pews, their backs
braced against the world by simple
planks and canvas to keep

the rain out. Young and poor
and full of grits, it’s hard to know
how much hell can break loose,

or even if it matters much. But
every lanterned night he learned
the trade of sums on borrowed

paper, seeing how one thing
adds to another to make something
new. In the end, math

got the best of him: the relent-
less Winstons, the crazy
wife with all her curtains tagged

and packed, the miles and miles
of oxygen tube, the liquid
that builds, gram by gram, round

a struggling heart and finally
stops it cold as a pine knot.

Visions and Disappearances


Visions and Disappearances

My mother fainted
almost at will, slumped
dead to the floor by the kitchen sink,

in her beauty shop,
on the hall carpet, and even
at church, blaming it then on the whorling,

cloyed smell of gardenias.
But never alone or driving the car,
or bathing in a tub of water where she might

drown. She was, if nothing,
a dependable fall. Mexicans, migrant
and shiftless, stole vegetables from her freezer

while she shopped
in town. Negroes ruined the Burger King
with their Philistine appetites, and once she wrestled

the devil Himself in the form
of an old black man outside the hospital
where my sister-in-law strained to force the head

of her first grandchild into
the world. Mom won that match
through prayer, just like she saved Mr. Franklin’s life

when a voice announced
his tractor rolled on him in a peanut field
near her house. And my dear pig-farming aunt and uncle

down the road she hated
with righteous passion for pride,
stinginess, and laying with other men—that abomination

reserved for my uncle, who,
of course, before going to his reward
tried to kill her secretly by tying a grocery bag

around the exhaust
of her loyal Chevy Lumina. When she was dying—
her pancreas destroyed like a quilt shredded by mice—

we sat in the dark
of not-yet morning on her back porch,
drinking coffee in silence until she said, “Well,

one thing
I know for sure—your aunt and uncle
are burning in Hell right now.” Then straight

away sipped the hot
brew, blew cigarette smoke
into the brightening air, and watched green hummingbirds

sup from the feeder,
its contents as red and soothing
as water some unseen miracle suddenly turned to wine.