At the Farm Stand
Columbia, CT • 2003
Away from the lie of the city, surrounded
by the soil’s hush, you can hear the neighborhood
chitchat, the flap and thud of paper bags,
the cashbox creak. You can see her
in the field, readying dirt mounds
for rain, patching pickets, then arranging
the vase of zinnias beside the dial radio.
Her faded denim dusty with zucchini fuzz,
a streak of soil across her brow,
arms full of overgrown squash
she’ll sell cheap for stews.
She opens the ground with a corkscrew.
Inside the little shed, tacked up beside rusted
photos of the forgotten railroad station
and gravel roads now buried beneath tar,
her name—Jayne—self-scripted in light pencil.
Sheltered inside the small hut, I forgot
about the dirt and worms stuck beneath things.
When you have a hole in your heart, you want
to fill it: peaches from other states, saplings,
wax beans. All summer, everything was sweet:
blood-colored cherries, Silver Queen, just-ripe
tomatoes, peas, the rain. Sun makes it easy
to float on the surface, coat your body with light.
Once a week they cracked her arthritic swagger
into place, like wedging tires with wooden chocks.
My body too was buoyed up, by bagfuls
of parsley, beans, and early Macs. She clutched
her crooked hip. I clutched my crooked head.
Fine; good; nice weather—that was all we said.
State Farm for Women
Niantic, CT • 1955
The Farm receives unmarried girls between
sixteen and twenty-one in manifest
danger of falling into habits of vice. Each screened
for IQ, VD, dental health, then dressed
in cotton dresses, taught to wash and fold,
can fruit, sew, milk, or cook. It’s here that Jayne’s
hand wrung an udder of a cow not culled—
those cattle left to wander, lactate, graze.
On Thursday nights—home night—she gently pressed
a cottage-mate’s hair, lined her eyes, used spray
to fix stray things in place (appearances
important to development of self-
respect in female prisoners). Out the window,
an inmate opened a gate to the meadow.