by Gary Jackson
Every year, my mother reminds me
to place flowers on my sister’s grave.
On a Thursday, I buy red
and yellow carnations
and baby’s breath. I drive alone.
The oak that grows nearby
has branches low enough to bear
the graves’ shadows.
I do this
for all of us. My sister buried in Topeka.
My mother who left for Dallas. The boy
I used to be who still clings to the years between.
I swore long ago I would never come back.
My mother does not swear,
but bears the same memories that lie beneath
Kansan green, waiting to break open
like rain on concrete. So I become
her emissary. I shoulder her burden.
I drudge down familiar streets, careful
to avoid high school crushes,
teachers, bullies, cousins who never made it out
of the state they were born in.
By the time I’ve pulled onto 21st,
the black iron gates behind,
I think of how there is no real distance
between anything, how Kansas
is always a breath
away. It’s not the grave,
but the memory that pulls.