All I wanted was to sink a new fencepost,
to replant what the chestnut filly took down last evening
when she bolted at a crack of lightning.
But this red soil bakes hard and dry in the kiln
of this blast-furnace summer. My blunt shovel stubs against
the cracked terracotta earth and bounces off.
I fetch my father’s auger, the brace and bit
he used a hundred years ago to tap sugar maples
in a softer Connecticut climate.
And his heavy crowbar, shaped from the axle
of an ancient Massey Harris tractor. Before he died,
he showed me how to turn a pedaled stone
to sharpen the crowbar’s tapered end. But I
was only thirteen, and alone. So the steel still bears marks
from the last time he sharpened it for me.
First, the auger. I slide my fingers onto
the oak spindle, lean into the dirt, and drill five close holes
down into the red-brick earth. Next, the crowbar.
Wrapping my hands over his palmprints, I heft
the bar’s weight and let its taper drop straight down into baked dirt.
Clay chips and curls away in red-earth flakes.
When I’ve chopped six inches down, I pour water
and let it seep. The chestnut filly flips her tail, shies off.
Redtail hawks ride thermals above the sweetgums.
I watch hawks whilethe clay softens and melts,
terracotta turning to potter’s slip. I scoop handfuls
into a wet sloppy mound, smooth and thick.
I wear the red clay, hands and arms slick with it.
Ochre presses into my pores, auburn smears through my sweat.
As it dries, flakes of clay peel like flayed skin.
My brother the potter loved this good solid earth.
Before he died, he taught me to build pots on his pedaled wheel,
turning common clay into fine vessels.
But I was clumsy and too quick. My pots cracked
in the kiln so I broke them and used the shards to pave paths
to the wild pastures where the horses live.
If I can remember what I am made from,
perhaps I can turn the broken bits into something fine.
I will fire this red earth into hard bricks
Trowel my hot tears into thick ash and
create a mortar to point up all that’s crumbled.
©2020 Sarah Blanchard. Earlier version published in Sixfold (Winter 2017)