Farmer’s Thirst

August days, when I was ten
I’d bring a thermos to the harvest field
And watch my dad drink water.
He leaned against the hitch, tipped
Back his head so I
Could see the stubbled thrust
Along his jaw and watch
The hidden liquid surge
Through the tight line of his throat
That clenched and grabbed, pushing
His Adam’s apple up and down,

I felt the water bruise,
Made substance by the squeezing;

Now, as I put a waxy rim up to his lips
(I do this every hour)
And cup his chin and feel the soft
Webbed skin pool in my palm
And wait to turn away,
To close my eyes –

If I can hold a perfect weight…lifting
My father’s chin a quarter inch,
His throat will tighten,
Punching out a valve cock
To release him from his
Deadly farmer’s thirst:
The clenching of dry labor,
This daily grasp and push
Which holds him hostage.

One August day I’ll do it,
When the air fan swaths across him, light as chaff,
When I can lay my fingers
Limp and open on his throat.
When I am not afraid to watch them
Tighten on his swallow,
And feel the trickle of his life run free.

From 1973–1993, Florri McMillan wrote fiction. Winner of the TriQuarterly Fiction Prize, the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, and first prize in the American Fiction 1990 Anthology, she has published over 30 stories in such periodicals as Redbook, Quarterly West, and Greenview Review.