by Eileen Pettycrew
Didn’t my father and I stand side by side on the red cotton picker as he steered it through the rows? We rode on the contraption high above the field as clatter thrummed my chest, drowned out my happy singing. The picker vacuumed the dry and open bolls, propelled cotton through dark channels into the metal basket on top, whose hinged jaws opened to dump its bounty into the trailer at field’s edge. We climbed into the trailer after each load, my father reaching into the basket to empty the last of the cotton, while I helped spread it out, and the day smelled of dirt and twigs and sky. But my father remembers only a hard life hoisting hay bales, digging irrigation ditches, fixing the tractor that kept breaking down. His broken-down heart is a basket of regrets that never empties. I break down my memory into its moving parts: The valves and tubing of my father’s heart. A faint song rising from tender lungs. The silence of freshly picked cotton. He and I touched clouds. We held them in our hands.