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Summer meant peeling: peaches,

pears, July, all carved up. August

was a tomato dropped

in boiling water, my skin coming

right off. And peas, Lord,

after shelling all summer, if I never

saw those green fingers again

it would be too soon. We'd also

make wine, gather up those peach

scraps, put them in jars & let them

turn. Trick was enough air.

Eating something boiled each meal,

my hair in coils by June first, Mama

could barely reel me in from the red

clay long enough to wrap my hair

with string. So tight

I couldn't think. But that was far

easier to take care of, lasted all

summer like ashy knees.

One Thanksgiving, while saying grace

we heard what sounded like a gunshot

ran to the back porch to see

peach glass everywhere. Reckon

someone didn't give the jar enough

room to breathe. Only good thing

bout them saving days was knowing

they'd be over, that by Christmas

afternoons turned to cakes: coconut

yesterday, fruitcake today, fresh

cushaw pie to start tomorrow.

On Jesus' Day we'd go house

to house tasting each family's peach

brandy. You know you could stand

only so much, a taste. Time we weaved

back, it had grown cold as war.

Huddling home, clutching each

other in our handed down handme-

downs, we felt we was dying

like a late fire; we prayed

those homemade spirits

would warm most way home.

Kevin Young

Kevin Young is a poet and recipient of the Paterson prize for sustained literary achievement.