By William Miller
A single naked light bulb, a single line
stretched across winter fields, brought the new century
to my grandmother’s house. For a hundred years,
fire light, oil light and candlelight
dimly lit a two-room farmhouse.
How many secrets, fears were shared
in the glow of coals, the wick burned
almost down? Stories of men and mules,
eyes put out by a fence staple, maimed hands,
scars that made the past live–
stories of courtships beneath a spreading
oak tree, weddings on a windy day.
They waited in a circle, stood on uneven boards
between pine logs, held my mother up
to pull the wire cord, make sure the miracle
was real. The light was so bright, so painful
to look at, she almost pulled the cord twice.
But there was no way to stop a single,
naked bulb, a burning filament, no way
not to see how poor they were—
handmade furniture, clothes stitched
and stitched again, the dust that floated
in the too-bright air. A second bulb would follow,
a third, streetlights, new houses built
on the soil that made them. They slept better
in total darkness, but didn’t whisper, laugh,
tell the story of how their people walked
into this valley behind creaking wagons,
walked into the land nobody wanted,
on bruised, broken feet.
Copyright 2023 Miller