By late July her fingertips begin to crack and split,
working the earth gloveless, their cost too dear
even if she’d risk the walk to town;
she knows the cost of the stares,
the hands help up before inclined faces,
the whispers, the curling lips.
No, I don’t need gloves; I’ve got soap.
The garden is coarse with ovoid stones
where the carrots gnarl their orange roots slantwise
down among these time-smoothed river rocks
the glaciers left behind.
These carrot shoulders look like rocks –
Rocks with leaves –– imagine!
So she blunts her fingers, probing, digging,
bloodies their cracked and whitened tips,
blood-mud caking their pliant creases
while she eases from their rocky sockets
the crooked orange shafts,
lining them like colored cordwood,
limp green fronds cascading
from the wicker basket she brings each day.
I hate getting blood on them
and this basket handle I bloody brown
every summer to feed the rabbits
On the strip of dug-up earth
the cast-away cobbles lie in little tumbles,
clinging clogs of clay-thick soil
flaking off in the steady sun.
Stephen Behrendt is George Holmes Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, where he specializes in the literature and culture of British Romanticism, particularly William Blake, the Shelley circle, and women poets of the Romantic period. A native of Wisconsin, he is also a widely published poet; his fourth book-length collection, Refractions, was published by Shechem Press in 2014.