On your farm I was an orphan, the black sheep,
the bookworm who bore into stories and poems
that never grew a single thing to eat, or bought
new winter shoes, or fixed your broken heart.

To you I wasn’t worth a beating. Yet you schooled me
in the motorized mule of tradition handed down
to plow a duty to make me the man I should be,
one not afraid to get his hands dirty.

You’d frown, remind me that my cousins
sure could work: “Them boys love this land,
so the land loves them.” They were making hay
then, while all I did was dream on the puzzle of us all.

I do love the land, love those who work it,
but I treasure most what grows in spite
of my poisonous kind, the 300-year-old
oaks sagging with songbirds, the tall green
grass stalks dancing like soulmates of the wind,
a summer rain swelling the creeks with movement,
but a downpour cursing you with muddy well water.

Perhaps like you I lost the whitest dream clouds.
The soil we shared stained us both, got in our eyes,
but a new dream floats in the fog of me,
more down to earth now like wispy white river ghosts.

We grew from the same soil if not the same spirit.
Your seed is firmly planted here, but mine is in the wind.
I never talked about dreams to you who seemed to have none,
whose hope was saying grace and Sunday School,
which I left for a bigger, perhaps crueler world,
thirsting for the spirit whispered by a river.

I never told you how peace and helping
hands should be chores of our choosing,
how birds of a feather sometimes choke together,
how wings and dreams spread wider if we tend them,
how rivers wind their way if we do not dam them.

Robert S. King. First published in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature