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Early Death
by Star Coulbrooke

Watercress thrives at the spring
where he washed his spray rods,
home from saving the hay
with beetle-killing Chlordane,
poison arching over the fields,
fine mist drifting into his lungs.

Forever after, his tractor
was driven by others, his sons
and then the neighbors
who bought it along with
the cows, the hay, the grain,
all the barn equipment.

Gone, his tools from the shed,
the vise, the grinding stone,
anvil and bellows. Gone, his
clothes from the bedroom closet,
his Sunday shoes, tie tacks
and cuff links, his razor, comb,
and shaving kit, the soft brush
he used to apply a foam lather.

Gone, his flashing gold tooth.
We stopped eating watercress.
Fifty years later, it thrives there,
its peppery flavor recalled
as if we had never quit picking it,
never quit layering its vivid green
between dense chunky slices
of Mother's homemade bread
spread with butter, sprinkled
with salt and black pepper.

Eying the green leaves thriving
under spouting water piped-in
from the mountains' arteries,
we don't dare break a stem to try.
Memory, not the fear of dying,
holds us back. On our tongues
the flavors mingle peppery and fresh.


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