From the recording Sunday Dinner
This poem is in memory of my maternal grandmother, Agnes Donaldson Terry.
"Go and bring a hen to the smokehouse door,"
My grandmother said when I was eight years old.
Dust motes swam in sunlit shafts, as four
Birds roosting eyed me, venomous and bold.
The one on the right, a fat, querulous thing,
Cocked her sequined eye as under her I slid
A trembling hand. I blinked, she struck, my ring
Finger oozed red, jumped in my pocket and hid.
"Now go and get Betty," my grandmother said.
"Tell her to bring water, a knife and some salt."
I looked and I looked, but Betty had fled;
I ran to the smokehouse and ground to a halt.
A shower of red rained down on my head;
My hurt finger quickened, and my heart raced.
My grandmother's apron from her lap bled
Scarlet drops onto her dusty shoes unlaced,
As round my legs a small white fury danced,
A feathery balloon someone let go.
At its head, or where its head should be, I glanced,
Recoiling in terror at its dumb show.
And that was Saturday noon. Sabbath morn,
We arose and to the meetinghouse went.
And when the preacher said "Ye must be reborn—"
"Washed in the blood—" I knew what he meant.
When the song of invitation sprang
From lips in dark faces I thought I knew,
I made my way down the aisle as they sang
And faced the preacher, and tried to answer true.
I stood in water, the back of my head
Cupped in his right hand. I answered again
The questions he posed, and afterwards fed
On the grape and the bread, though my mind in circles ran.
So home we went, and, famished, awaited word
Of blessing—the Sunday table, steaming, spread
With the bounty of earth, the crisp, golden bird.
We ate the blood and the body. We resurrected the dead.