Summer Night in Cherryfield Acres
(Reading, Ohio, circa 1960)
This night comes before the bomb shelter
in the Clark’s back yard, before Sue Keller’s
unwed pregnancy. It comes before Ronnie Johnson
burned a flag and his father’s fist slammed
the table at such defiance. This is a night of pot roast,
mashed potatoes with gravy, and Jell-O topped
with Reddi-Whip, of mothers hanging dishtowels
in wiped-clean kitchens, of Mrs. Andrews
humming her baby to sleep. This night comes
before napalm. Before Mrs. Bell took a job,
before angry black boys heaved bright-lit torches
through storefront windows downtown. This
summer night, Mrs. Harris does not have cancer.
Mr. Cooper has never molested his kids. Jim Riley has
not yet jumped from the I-75 overpass in an LSD trance.
This ordinary night, couples gather in the Franks’
front yard. The men set up lawn chairs, open cold bottles
of beer, while the women put out bags of chips, stir
the French onion dip. A radio spits out the play-by-play—
Reds vs. Pirates. The Anderson boy calls ghost
in the graveyard across unfenced backyards. This
is a night of desultory conversations, of Mr. Pritchard’s
jokes and Mrs. Carlson’s recipe for chocolate pie.
This night, with their skates clamped tight
to black and white saddle shoes, girls
make figure eights in the warm
yellow glow of a streetlight.
The night he left she crossed the field,
sat with me till morning drinking hot tea
laced with Seagram’s, dissecting my marriage
piece-by-piece. Where had I gone wrong, no,
damn it—where had he?
Her mother’s death—my turn to cross.
Will you sing? she asked. I stood in the loft
of a simple country church, “Rugged Cross”
forced out around the sorrow in my throat.
our husbands roasted corn
on a home-made half-drum grill,
swapping stories, drinking beer.
We crossed the path with our offerings—
potato salad in cloudy Tupperware,
blankets and lawn chairs, berries for dessert.
Our children chased fireflies in the field
after dark. We’d swat mosquitoes, count
the stars, mix another batch of margaritas.
They sold their house, bought an RV,
headed west, like gypsies, she said.
I mark her way by the postcards
she sends, the last one from Arizona.
The field is still there, open and flat.
Rabbits camouflage their young.
Birds peck for insects in the Queen Ann’s Lace.
The swamp where our children hunted snakes
and tadpoles is still surrounded by cattails and thistles.
The last time I looked, the path was still visible.
—Jean Preston, Kenosha, WI