After a photograph by Gordon Parks: Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956
Jeff and S.L. go fishing in Turkey Creek.... They do not play baseball, have never even heard of the Dodgers or the Yankees. – Robert Wallace, Life magazine
S.L. presses the fingers of his left hand
into sandy soil behind him on the bank.
Whether to push up to his feet or settle
onto his backside is impossible to know.
A small, flat tin behind him holds hooks
or the worms they've collected for bait.
Its red label, barely visible at this angle,
is the only bright color in the frame,
the rest in shaded grays and faded greens.
Turkey Creek is translucent in places, white
where the sun hits, muddied near as brown
as dead branches where it doesn't.
Spanish moss drapes along thick vines
like a dull, errant boa tossed
from some long-forgotten party.
The boys look nearly identical from behind—
loose white shirts with soft collars, short sleeves
beneath the stiff dark denim of their overalls.
Hair cropped close at the neck, little longer on top,
ears jutting out at just the same angles.
Though they are still boys here—10, 11—
they won't be for long. Already they mix work
with play: Pump water. Pick beans. Boil clothes.
Tie a junebug to a string so it orbits their heads.
They don't miss baseball. How could they miss
what they've never known? They have no gloves,
no bats. No radio for listening to games.
Instead they fish this creek for fun—
they like to one-up each other,
a long-running sibling rivalry,
who can snag the bigger fish—
but their catch will be tonight's supper.
A small contribution, yes.
But one less meal to worry about
is a good way to pass the time.