“Esau in Itta Bena, Mississippi”

by T.K. Lee

Michael shot me

by the runner beans,

the smoke – I swear –

coming off

his finger, a solid minute

after I fell

writhing like cottonmouths,

hoe to the head.

I slid

on a clod,

skinned my knee.

Uncle Moon hollering

“You messing up

my clean rows,”

in that gumbo dirt

turned over

for the sweet corn

and runner beans

and yellow squash

and red potatoes

was our sandbox

where we playground.

I was still dying when

Michael said, “Play dead already.”

I ground into a fresh pile

of buckshot soil.

Uncle Moon facing

off toward the house.

The sweat in my eyes

hurt. The history of that

Delta sun, how it razed us—

now and there and then—

(I was supposed to be dead)

I was distracted when

Michael said,

(and I’ll say it scared me

how his voice had gone low,


as a separate cloud

an open eye, furrowed)

“You sure play dead like you mean it,”

Michael said,

(And I’ll say it. His voice

was already old, deep

as a bone).

He set his arm swinging,

that same clod

in his hand,

a stare raked across

his brow


(would soon grow


up to be a Field


filled his cheeks

with an acre of headlong age.

He stood, one leg a posthole

sewn a natural fit into the ground.

The left leg, bent like a disc

in a tiller. That bend, that’s what

did it, yielded him a single mule

of a thought that he mistook

as his birthright:

He would not be a hand-

me-down nephew with no neck

afraid to look up,

not now that he realized he

had always been an arm-

length away from the sun.

Michael believed that,

and he believed it

with that full

unbroken circle

of faith that only

favors the young;

he thought,

in that moment,

with enough, with his own, momentum,

he could throw

that same clod

(a plow-perfect row of loam)

straight to the sun,

past the cloud, alone

past the clouds, all together

the World, in one throw

at the end of his fist

Here he was

king of the dirt, born

(before long—boring

holes in the roots around his ankle,

gathering stray pine limbs or

Bradford Pear switch-sticks to tether

his dingy white socks to


To Do Again what’s Been Done

for the Last Hundred Years:

Stay Here and Still.


tall as he is

he is

a self-fulfilled scarecrow

prophecy. You can see

him from the road

far and away

high above

the runner beans,

the yellow squash,

the red potatoes,

the sweet corn,

the king, he is,

of eventual rot

sick to death

but not

dying. This is the lesson

I learned

face down in the dirt,

where he left me

for dead.