Favorite

Bartlesville, Oklahoma 1980 

The summer before you were born
was the hottest in 100 years.
With no place to go your father and I
moved into a tiny white farmhouse
with his sister Jean.

We overstayed our welcome
by at least two months.

The garden shriveled and burned
no matter how much I watered.
Under the straw mulch lay toads
splayed and bloated with water.
Locusts came and ate
the few surviving plants,
even flew off with
my dog Buddy's food,
nugget by nugget.

The wind blew red grit
onto every surface,
into every bite we ate
sitting on webbed lawn chairs
in the living room
after Jean moved out,
took the tables
the couch
and the T.V.
Before she left,
Jean's dog killed Buddy.

Alone in the evenings,
I sat on the porch swing
holding my belly
waiting for a breeze.
Birds nested on top
the rotten wooden pillars.
Beaks and bird bones
poked from holes
near the bottom.
Every night I watched
the taillights recede
as plumes of dust followed
your Dad to the bar.
I'd find him in the morning
face down in the dirt
somewhere between the porch steps
and the open truck door.

Letters home described
scissor-tailed flycatchers,
magical skies where stars
touched the ground,
the Milky Way a solid path.

- Barbara Dahlberg

Barbara Dahlberg is a retired Pittsburgh Public School Art teacher. She is a 2001 Fellow with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project. Her work has appeared in Voices in the Attic and Threads. She was a featured poet on Prosody -- NPR-affiliate WESA's weekly show featuring the work of national writers – and she performed at the 2014 She Said. She lives in Squirrel Hill. Many writers featured in Chapter & Verse are guests of Prosody, produced by Jan Beatty and Ellen Wadey. Prosody airs every Saturday morning on 90.5 FM.

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