The gourd is the size of a mandolin,
as light as one, and almost its shape
except for its plump goosey neck and
its big behind, too big to be a rattle or
a water dipper like the one at my
grandparents’ house, the skin of it
like a wall with a history of paint–
ochre, silver gray, ivory, gold, charcoal,
khaki–weathered at different intervals,
some kind of wordless palimpsest.
You bought it for me at a farmer’s market.
I still have it, I love to look at it and run
my hand over its curves, it seems so
self-contained, so perfectly what it is.
The man who sold it to you grew it and
dried it and drove it in on his truck with
other gourds that sat in ranks on the
stand, flanked by some okra and peppers
and peas. He told you how to make a
birdhouse of it, told you that after you cut
the holes in it you could hang it from a wire,
a wahr, you said and laughed, a wahr.
I was slow to get it, but then I always was.
I’d heard that laugh a long time before in
school, a little bunch of little somebodies
with a stout bully, often a girl, in the front,
laughing at some country kid or poor kid or
black kid, their clothes, their shoes, how
they carried their books, mimicking the way
they talked, bearing down on them till they
drove them to some periphery close by.
It was a periphery where they were my only
company, and I was glad of it. We never
spoke about how we’d arrived there, didn’t
even know what words there might be to
speak of it, it was just always so astonishing,
no matter how often it happened, you just
couldn’t imagine it would happen again.
The way it rolled from your mouth. It was
the first time I had ever seen you be unkind.