Stare Long Enough | Patty Crane

Walker Evans, Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead (1936). Courtesy Williams College Museum of Art.

Stare Long Enough

And the wall becomes a field,
each plank a row of planted cotton.
Then the cotton turns to dust–
the dust on a long wooden table
set with a single plate.
The plate is enormous.
The plate is keep the family fed on 60 cents a day.
It’s milk on credit food on credit fuel on credit.
It’s:  1 peck cornmeal
3 lbs salt meat
2 lbs sugar
1 lb coffee
1 gallon molasses
1 plug chewing tobacco
It’s pone bread, ashcakes, fatback pork.
It’s give up the garden plot to grow more crop.
Hookworms, pellagra, rickets.
The plate fills the entire room.
Stare long enough and it becomes a wall.
And the wall is the landlord
who has the pencil and the books.
The wall is Well, Bud, you didn’t make it this time,
you still owe me 200 bucks. Maybe next year.
Drought, weevil, flood. Wind, hail, frost.
The wall is first child at fifteen, three more by nineteen,
died giving birth to her fifth.
It’s waking up in a ring of sweat.
The wall is exhausted and illiterate,
wears the one pair of shoes,
and at night, when they’re all asleep,
it takes the sharp meat fork and the one knife
and goes out hunting.

Patty Crane’s translation of Tomas Tranströmer’s book The Sorrow Gondola was recently featured in Blackbird. Thanks in large part to a MacDowell Fellowship, she’s just completed a second collection translating the Nobel laureate from his native Swedish. Her own poetry has appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Bellevue Literary Review, Fugue, RUNES, The Comstock Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review and West Branch, among other journals; as well as reviews and essays in Poetry International and The Writer’s Chronicle. Awards include the 2004 Two Rivers Review Poetry Prize and Atlanta Review’s 2005 International Publication Prize. Crane recently returned to her home in the hilltowns of western Massachusetts after three years living in Sweden.