I drink a lot of water so it fills up fast.
It’s a habit I got into growing up in Lost Gap, just outside of Meridian, Mississippi;
110° in the shade,
working in the strawberry field in the blistering summer heat,
cutting weeds out of the ruby red rows with the bloody blade of a long-handled hoe.
Down one side and back up again;
stopping every once in a while to wipe the sweat from my brow and eye the big orange jug of water shimmering in the distance on the far edge of the field.
It’s my reward for finishing a row.
The boss stands before me now like a fire and brimstone preacher red-faced and screaming.
He was watching with black binoculars from the big house on the hill as I yielded to the temptation of the water jug and left my hoe lying halfway up the row to caress the tepid fluid in a pointed paper cup with my tongue.
The cup is empty now, the water streaming in tears from my eyes and running down my face to splash in big drops like rain in the dry dust under the bench where I sit.
I have somehow sinned and this mud at my feet is the product of my penance.
The preacher is spent;
the sermon sung, the parishioner slunk down in his pew, sobbing anew.
There is nothing, and so much more, to say.
With a cry of disgust, he turns to the bright chariot of a white truck blazing in the sun.
He enters, explodes through the slamming door, and roars away.
I am alone again, enveloped in the cloud of his Ascension, left to stare after him with eyes blurred
by the remnants of my own Dixie squall.
Inside I am dry, my belly empty and still,
but I know that should I drink a glass of water every day for the rest of my life,
I will never be wet again
or fully filled.
October 25, 1996