Dry season

by Judy Kaber
The Waters
First Place, May 2012
Judged by Shara McCallum

After the spring thaw when what snow there was melted, left
Braille trickles in the dirt, the time came for me to move,
carry the last load of hay to the barn, scratch the goat, feel her
dry bag sag down low. Time came for me to let the dog free,
ease her collar over her scrawny neck, give her room
finally to drink her fill from that dented aluminum bowl. Time to
gather my clothes together in the burlap sack. Take my spoon,
half a jug of whiskey, the fancy linen table cloth, white faded to
ivory with only a few moth holes. Turn the latch, greet the
jittering morning, birds like torn leaves, kick song in the bushes.
Kind of like this day’s a bad draft of all the others. Too many
loose vowels and crossed off lines. Too many bitter
moments like off-kilter rhymes. I step in the dust-mottled yard,
notice the black sprawl, piles of wood ashes. Makes me think
of the days when I had a little smoke house out front,
plenty of ham, bacon, tied with twine, and me always with
quick thrusts of green apple boughs to keep the burn going.
Right now don’t mean much. Right now I think I should have
sold it all in one fell punch. Not that anyone would come looking.
Too far out. Roads like black pus. No electricity. No water
unless you use the pump. Too far gone now. Never had many
visitors, except maybe when I had those chickens. Don’t know
why now I sold them. Bright little bunch. Claws that made little
x’s in the ground, hunting bugs. That was their life, laying
you eggs, spending the rest of their time searching for insects,
zig-zagging some crazy path. No sense to it. None.

The voice that comes through in this dramatic monologue is Faulknerian, replete with the drama of loss yet completely understated and matter-of-fact about this aspect of life. The speaker/persona of this poem observes the world so meticulously and unselfconsciously that everything radiates a greater meaning (the chickens, for example, are never just chickens). The diction of this poem is constantly inventive (“Braille trickles,” “jittering morning,” “dust-mottled yard,” etc.)—yet never loses the sense of the colloquial speech that makes the character of the speaker so believable and engaging. Finally, the form of this poem (an abecedarian) is used in the best manner—seamlessly, unobtrusively—and is inseparable from content. On many levels, this is a masterful poem. --Shara McCallum