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The Moving and the Stillness

poetry by Clinton Neuhaus

The Moving and the Stillness

Cotton and wheat followed,
or we followed field over field,
rows turned like the groove on a record,
we were moving in those days, always--
Moving when Ruby was born, and wheat
swayed under a flaxen wind,
Moving when she died and cotton seemed
the clouds she rode home to where
Ma said the Lord took her.
1923, a time when diarrhea
could dry a newborn like grain chaff.
I was three and only knew
she was there then gone,
like the fields we tended.

When the oaks of '28 wept leaves
like flames gathered round the farm house
my brother and I searched for Ruby
in the stable straw, the peanut fields, and chicken coops--
places that told us we had stopped moving.
Buddy thought to look in the wood shed
under logs where cold curled between
bark flaking off like skin from bone.
We carried timbers, heavy as headstones
to the iron belly stove,
where Buddy coughed like the croup
had taken his lungs,
then died before dinner was done.

I had Buddy's symptoms earlier.
Ma forced calama down my throat
chased with castor oil--
my heaving brought two curds,
ice cycles from my frozen lungs.
The doctor said "diptheria,"
I had vomited what Buddy choked to death on.
But I knew it was the still places
that took him, and the stillness
that killed him, the place where Ruby went
when the moving took her
where life stopped like the needle
scratched to the end of a record,
the place where fields wheeled
to a final harvest.

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