Crop rows turn like flip-book pages. The story goes,

a combine paces in a wheat field, and the sun

overhead breathes like a stepfather. Another drought

will wake soon, stumble down walnut rows, and knock

pictures from hallway walls. In a pear grove,

a boy and his sister finger-draw

on a dusty Honda Civic. Their mother’s

day won’t end until she loads

two-dozen white buckets with almost-ripened

pieces of a land now called “California.”

Another young mother in a place like Akron, Ohio,

eats some California on her fifteen.

Outside Coalinga, I think of my own mother,

and, for the first time, consider what it really takes

for a twenty-seven-year-old who’s just left her

abusive husband, the only town she’s ever lived,

and her mother and father and brothers—

a twenty-seven-year-old with two children under ten

to feed and house and clothe with almost no money—

I consider what it really takes for her to break

the silence with a fart joke, as my mother did

when we passed the feedlot. Cows

squeezed to the trough. My sister and I laughed

in the backseat. My mother’s eyes held us

in the rearview mirror of our Toyota Starlet.

sand hills

Erik Wilbur teaches writing at Mohave Community College in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He is also the program director of Real Toads Poetry Society, a literary organization that provides opportunities for residents of Northwestern Arizona communities to learn about, experience, and share works of literary art. His work has recently appeared in The Southampton Review, New Ohio Review Online, and Aquifer. His chapbook, What I Can Do, won the 2020 Chestnut Review Chapbook Contest. Erikwilbur.com