Barbara Lightner

Scenes out of Childhood
Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry
                              --Muriel Rukeyser

The day the heat came
           I could see it
                cut from morning 
     into the fields, 
                    withering the cotton.
I was ten.
I walked down the road
            by the widder’s place,
                        knew from her wail
            the heat in her snakebite,
bandages fouled from
            an old war’s blood;
went through the worn-out pasture
           choked with onion grass;
     heard the sweet lowing of mmmboss
                  by the tarpaper shack; 

knew the harsh carols 
     of grasshoppers among 
                 tiny blueflowers
          against the dead hay;
saw the heat in 
            Baby’s glaze-eyed vomiting;
and in Bea Mama’s baby 
       with the three-inch navel,
making her sickly, they said;
went down the blacktop by the Colonel’s house
           where I saw his mad daughter, 
     run out and howl 
across the fields of red-baked clay
            in some determination of despair.
At home that afternoon I peeked
            into the solarium, 
               cool, and with what voices!
        the sweet tinkle of laughter, 
the garden dresses, 
           the wide-brimmed hats. 
I saw the president of the garden club
            call the meeting to order;
heard the ladies praising the soon-coming 
                 wild orange persimmon within
               a brown wood, and the honeysuckle,
its little trumpets of amaranthine flower
           that would blare beauty throughout 
            a good God’s imagined fields. 
                 I still see them,
                   those ladies,
              under the big-bladed
                 slow-moving fan,
                   iced in tea.


Barbara Lightner grew up in rural Tennessee among sharecroppers, aristocrats, and hardscrabble farmers. She now lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She received a BA in English Literature from Smith College and a PhD from UW-Madison. She taught creative writing at UW-Madison and Skagit Valley College. She has been published in The Back Porch Review, Rabbit, Verse Wisconsin, Poesia, OccuPoetry and elsewhere.