It is Sunday, day of roughhousing. We are let out in the woods. The young
boys wrestle and butt their heads together like sheep--a circle forms;
claps and shouts fill the air. The women, brown and glossy, gather round
the banjo player, or simply lie in the sun, legs and aprons folded. The
weather's an odd monkey--any other day he's on our backs, his cotton eye
everywhere; today the light sits down like the finest cornmeal, coating
our hands and arms with a dust. God's dust, old woman Acker says. She's
the only one who could read to us from the Bible, before Massa forbade it.
On Sundays, something hangs in the air, a hallelujah, a skitter of brass,
but we can't call it by name and it disappears.
Then Massa and his gentlemen friends come to bet on the boys. They guffaw
and shout, taking sides, red-faced on the edge of the boxing ring. There
is more kicking, butting, and scuffling--the winner gets a dram of whiskey
if he can drink it all in one swig without choking.
Jason is bucking and prancing about--Massa said his name reminded him of
some sailor, a hero who crossed an ocean, looking for a golden cotton
field. Jason thinks he's been born to great things--a suit with gold
threads, vest and all. Now the winner is sprawled out under a tree and the
sun, that weary tambourine, hesitates at the rim of the sky's green light.
It's a crazy feeling that carries through the night; as if the sky were an
omen we could not understand, the book that, if we could read, would
change our lives.
by Rita Dove