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The Shack

By William Heath

The pickers are long gone,
just a few men have jobs.
Cotton choppers replaced by
crop-dusting planes spraying
weed-killing poison.  Green
machines resembling gigantic
grasshoppers, bloated bins
for bellies, gobble cotton,
leaving only the ends of rows
for the last of the pickers.

The planter says it’s decent
to give tenants a “furnish”
to last through winter,
doesn’t see another link in
a brutal chain of bondage. 
To clear land to seed
for soybeans and cotton
he only lets them plant
a two-row truck patch
by the shack’s doorstep,
makes them relocate
the outhouse closer.

The walls have holes
cardboard can’t cover,
window frames hold
no glass or screens,
the ground is visible
through floorboards,
the roof leaks come rain
or snow, wind howls
night and day. To stay
warm they stoke the stove
so hot everyone sweats.
It cools down so fast
the young all catch colds,
the old sicken and die. 

The kids sleep three or more
in a bed, the table lacks chairs
so they eat from tin plates
on the floor. For drinking
and washing they collect
rainwater in a rusty pail. 
For both lunch and dinner
pinto beans and cornbread,
maybe a jar of Kool-Aid,
one child has “sweet blood,”
another intestinal worms,
a doctor might see them
once a year, a dentist never,
only come Christmas time
will they taste fresh fruit.  

William Heath has published two chapbook books, Night Moves in Ohio and Leaving Seville; a book of poems, The Walking Man; three novels: The Children Bob Moses Led, Devil Dancer, and Blacksnake’s Path; a work of history, William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest; and a book of interviews, Conversations with Robert Stone.


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