At the Drive-Thru
I’ve watched a squirrel three days in a row,
Squirting around the empty trees as quick as
Water from a hose, jumping, climbing,
Searching for the spot that bears
I sit here at a drive-thru
waiting for my sandwich. I do not have
to crawl, wiggle, or hustle,
I hardly move,
just reach out to grab a fat bag of food.
I chew and watch him planning his
next jump. He doesn’t know that I am
watching him, wondering if he
Has other trees to search,
wondering even if this is the same squirrel.
I remember the old folks saying
“He is barking up the wrong tree,”
and I think about hound dogs,
with their tongues hanging loose,
noses twitching for the smell of a “coon.”
They will sit there for hours
Barking, begging for a fight,
Pleasing their hunter.
They will not give up until
The master pulls them away.
I wonder why, in the beginning of a hunt,
the little squirrels don’t wake up,
find a nearby limb, squirm down
and kindly tell the hounds
they are “barking up the wrong tree.”
Squirrels should be kind enough to
show the dogs and coons some mercy,
The squirrel I am watching doesn’t seem
smart enough to know that
he should help his brother,
Dumb squirrel, dumb as I am,
holding food and drink between my legs
not balancing as well as the squirrel on
the limb, just sitting still, waiting
for someone to do the hunting for me.
I am planted in the nearly leather backseat
of our Chevrolet Impala, still perfumed “brand new.”
“As soon as your daddy gets here, we’ll be ready,”
Mama says, her lips in hot pink bloom.
Mirror down for her to check and dab,
she turns and glances at me,
making sure that everything is perfect
like the map of expectations she has sketched.
“Hurry up,” she shouts to Daddy who’s locking the storm door,
making his way to the driver’s seat, uneasy
as a child on a doctor’s visit, awaiting discomfort,
four hours under the wheel of silence and small talk.
We roam country roads, avoiding interstates.
Mama eyes the pretty houses sitting posed on Main Streets
like girls who bat their lashes and wait to dance.
We stop at country stores for Mama’s favorite bottled Cokes.
Daddy clears his throat, sucks his teeth and whistles,
bronzed farmer-arm out the window. He checks
every hill of tobacco, every field of grain,
wishing he were back in his own dirt.
If anyone is watching us, they see three people
miles and miles from home: a man and a woman who
need the child in the back to keep them on course,
the child who asks over and over, “Are we there yet?”
The big girls looped and handed,
smoked cigarettes or dipped snuff,
talked about Saturday nights,
boys who took them there.
They worked fast and talked hard.
I wanted their jobs;
I wanted to reach and wrap
my hands around tobacco leaves,
making fancy bundles out of them.
I wanted the luxury of completing
one stick and calling for another one,
another chance to tie a perfect row.
“Pick up the scattering,” he’d say.
I wanted to spit.
Pick up the scattering, the leftovers.
All brown and shriveled, ground
in dirt under busy feet.
I wonder if Daddy was just trying
to keep me busy and out of the way,
‘til quitting time.
Or, was the gathering of parts
some metaphor for life,
where we make whole cloth
of simple thread.