Jessica Fordham Kidd

Can We Buy What We Need?


Two fish become two birds
and fly out of the water
to stretch their throats into noise,
the myriad music of a place.

Their singing envelops their flight
and the man who stops
working his garden to listen.
Bird shadows
tattoo his arms and back—
a heron, a blood-vessel eagle.

He adds his voice. It will
float down river past soybean fields,
but his wife doesn’t hear her name.
She hears a train

and cottonmouths in the yard.
They curl this way and that
pretending to swallow the flowers.
The river with its great meander
almost has them surrounded.

This is what they need:
sounds of the river sweet with debris,
sheet music, bleach bottles;
sounds of rain returning to the fish;
and flecks of light that fall with rain.


Incident, Endeavor


I had a shelf
to hold the pan of water, cups, food. My kitchen. Standing
at the shelf I heard a bullet as it popped
through the house
like a shouting star above my girls. This was before
they were women. They were playing on the floor.
It was just a mistake. Some shot for the hell of it.
                        Everyone can laugh nervously
at how the bullet glided through like we were in a house
of bed sheets
                        like we lived between the clothes lines
and were a little flapped by the weather.

                        Without fear,
oh I was just as close as I could get to the heater
                        without being burned
and didn’t even think about the noise
just my stones and how in this one place they were
                        little ladies in another place
they were train cars. My sister
was there my brothers hadn’t happened my mother
                        had something to do with a spoon.

It doesn’t matter was I there or not. I saw
places I’d have to patch in three walls and the man
                        across the pasture I’d have to have
words with and then
                        the start of a great endeavor:
to build a house continuous.
Rooms upon
                        rooms so that if a bullet came in
it couldn’t possibly attain the whole place.

Even now it keeps happening.
                        Little rooms shoot off
and patchwork the hill. I like to ask
how everything was crammed into this room,
                        where my mother stayed when she was small,
and which wall had the large picture window she remembers
liking. They all liked it, but it was buried in walls
                        as rooms radiated out
                        like a railroad map.


Our Labor Seasons the River


Dark river cold and smooth
reflects the blue sky
and itself becomes blue.

Barges ripple sparse clouds
and push flood trash
to the banks. The stench

from upstream work isn’t so bad
unless there are days
of hard rain. Then it holds

invisible and thick
to the sandbars and mudbanks.
Every fisherman

in a flat-bottomed boat
steers away, looks for discarded
Christmas trees sunk in a slough.


I Attempt to Reconcile the Men I Know


I hide under the never-used dining room table
and study his face
and then the lion-foot table legs.
Later, I'll tag along and watch him in his garden
and watch him make presents of the produce
for my mother. Even in my youngest versions,
I know there have been dark times for this character.

I see him sopping up buttermilk with cornbread
and staring at his family foes with strange pale eyes.
I see him joking with the men at the flea market
and driving along back roads to pick up cans.
We walk together in a grown over field
and step between cairns his father made
in the clearing of that field.
I wonder how much of a loss he feels
that he never knew that man.

I'm confined to the house, sick and longing
to roll in the perfect Spring grass.
Everything he does is fascinating.
What goes on in that shed? What is being planted?
Now something around the side of house that I can't see at all.
There is so much to learn from quiet
and from watching storms roll in.
From being outside and fretting about the soul.

These men with wounds and scars and tough hands
and things they saw and did
that we can't know right now.

      return to poetry

Jessica Fordham Kidd works as an instructor and the associate director of first-year writing at the University of Alabama. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, OVS, Crab Creek Review, Six Little Things, and the online version of Grist: The Journal for Writers.