They're up to their necks in fever and floodplains, clear-
ing ground along miles of riverbed, bloodred. Carolina heat
burns holes in their straw hats, leaves halos of steam around
silhouettes. Down the line, they are one deep breath riding
field rhythms Movin', movin'. Lone bones of things: a dog's jaw, 
a man's leg, a baby's pelvis; thin bones of turtles, birds, fish
pulled to the surface by swole-up hands. Hopsack dresses
singe the women's bodies. Fringes hang from the straw pants on 
sweat-soaked, bare-chested men in the line. The line shouter 
urges them on Movin' on down the line. Huh. The searing sun
drives quail points in their backs, its red glare shedding circles
of light around their darkening bodies. Foot after foot of earth
unearthed. Root-thick soil dug up along low country rivers
for glaberrima, Africa's rice. Heels indent soil for seeds; big
toes cover seeds with soil in song You told me, huh, knees are
important. Gnarled fingers of grans and nans who no longer
winnow, weave ancient designs into coiled baskets of pine,
sweet grass, bulrush and palmetto to hold the summer yield. 
Hulls beat against hollowed-out trees as they whirl in dervish
frenzy, carried round by ringing words Movin' on down the line, 
huh. Despite bits and whips, they return to thatched-roof huts,
sweep up dusty dirt with palm-leaf brooms before they bank
the dinner fire. Lean-to chimneys ride smoke and ash up mud
walls, a calico headscarf on a nail, the room's only rush of
color. Their bodies break down on straw pallets. Tomorrow, 
same as today. Same as yesterday. Okra and tomato stew. 
Fish on Sunday, scratching out the scream holler of summer
rice in their bones Ah'm a movin'. Movin' out the line. Huh.

More by Linda Susan Jackson

Improvisation on Them

He courts her with Soir de Paris & braids myths in her hair.

To hear time how they need it to be is the sound of dare.

His soft-burred tenor soaks her like grapes in wild yeast.

A beautiful loser, she takes pleasure in being incomplete.

He draws tears from grown men when he plucks his box.

She is reckless, never trained, so much a wound clock.

They move like movement in a still life picture.

She sings behind the beat and leans into the future.

Stepping out of sequence as though they’ve just begun.

Then again, the start moves back, depending on the run.

Related Poems

Old Photographs

On my desk is a photograph of you
taken by the woman who loved you then.

In some photos her shadow falls
in the foreground. In this one, 
her body is not that far from yours.

Did you hold your head that way
because she loved it?

She is not invisible, not
my enemy, 
nor even the past. 
I think
I love the things she loved.

Of all your old photographs, I wanted
this one for its becoming. I think
you were starting
to turn your head a little, 
your eyes looking slightly to the side.

Was this the beginning of leaving?