The Archibald Rutledge Prize
In the Moon of Yellow Fever, Campobello, South Carolina, 1916
For days a mouse has gnawed
the mattress on which sister Sallie lies
dying of the bilious fever,
talking crazy and tossing
in the billows of sweat-soaked quilts,
mama sponging her down unceasingly
while days explode into nights
and the stars appear as small dark hearts.
This morning the mouse gnaws no more,
caught in the iron coils of the bedsprings.
Cows along Motlow Creek droop in the heat
and stare silently across Highway 176,
near Gramling, where I lie face down
sheltered under a wild cherry tree whose bark
bears the sheen of Taxco silver.
I part the blades of wet grass like an animal
grooming her kin, search for something
solid like naked tan bodies of blue-legged
mushrooms, hunt with hands through grass
from which wrens rise, looking for Jesus.