Along the banks of Clinch River, by the Post Office
a tornado struck in the summer of ’93 or ’94,
I pick dandelions from grass sodden with overflown waters
to brighten our bare plates with nature.
In a house of seven long walks into town meant trading work
for greens and picking lilacs with my grandmother for tea
And daylong fishing trips for grandfather and my cousin
competing to catch the heftiest whiskered catfish.
I separate root from leaves from petals, and rinse them:
rich coffee streams down the drain and I cleanse my dirty hands.
I cradle loose florals like sunlight, mix with lavender,
then drop them in a kettle to soak.
Grandmother brings down her blade, piercing the leather dermis
of grandfather’s trophy just behind the neck.
Her cold steel bows at her hand’s command and divides
its meat from skin and spine, then again to the other side.
She grips it tightly, while some use pliers, shell pulled free – a parched hide –
and chars its flesh in cast iron.
She cleans the hooks and tucks them back into the tackle box,
then grinds dandelion roots to store for medicine.
We dress leaves with lemon, oil, garlic, and thyme,
a dandelion salad to lighten the buds.
When the fish crisps and crackles, we pepper zest on top, and our tongues
blister, anticipating the reward of a week’s work.
Matthew Gilbert is a recent graduate from the M.A. program in English Literature at East Tennessee State University. He has served as the 2018-2019 editor of the student-based literary journal The Mockingbird. His work has appeared in Echoes and Images, The Mockingbird, The Red Mud Review, and Delta Poetry Review.