C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

The Jumper; How to Garden in the Family Graveyard in Zebulon, North Carolina

By: Brooke Baker Belk


The Jumper


Hitting the water, he’d shatter

a cascade of fish and keep falling

past thin-slit lungs

and fronded tails,

twisted toes drifting,

his brain two bleeding fruits

with ripped stems.

Ask me why, and I’d tell you

no hand plucked him safe in desire, he was

no one’s chosen;

or the bridge didn’t span, he ran

out of time; he fell;

in other words, it could have been helped.

I’d tell you this to spare you.

He knows exactly what he’d do.

He’d settle like sediment,

rocked to the bottom

by reverberations that relieved him

of every heavy reason

he’d had

to stay.




How to Garden in the Family Graveyard in Zebulon, North Carolina


Sink your hand into the sandy loam slowly. Allow the rasp and scrape of buried pebbles, bits of brick, old mortar, snail shells, oxidized nails from a lost house of a lost century to slide by your hand. Allow the slugs and earthworms. Allow the dirt. Sink deeper. Sink to your wrist. The earth will grant you this, it is heavy with last night’s rain, the earth is wet and waiting and you are not an interloper, you are standing on the bones of your grandparents. Close your eyes. Your eyes are in your fingers, in the dark tunnels your fingers have made, flushed and throbbing with the red light of blood as you slide by bits of other times and grasp for the remnant that you need, the hard cold thing in the sandy ground that covers your family’s dead, the dark hard thing that’s waiting to be found: the last bulb of the purple crocuses that you’ll replant next fall in cooler earth.



Brooke Baker Belk is a poet, yoga teacher and accidental marketer born and bred in the South. Her adventures have included studying formal poetry at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaching English in China, rescuing many animals, and surviving to age 37 with an intact sense of wonder. She lives in Durham, North Carolina lives with her husband, two cats, hundreds of orchids and even more books, and loves it. "Thoughts on How to Garden in the Family Graveyard in Zebulon, North Carolina The story in this poem is true. My whole family has been in North Carolina since before the Revolutionary War, and my father's family does have land that includes a family graveyard in Zebulon. I gardened in it (better real flowers than plastic!) as a child with my great-aunt, who was born and almost died on that property. I did not grow up on the land, but I was reared 30 miles from it, and visited often; I am fascinated by the idea that the farm literally fed and became the people from whom I was grown, and therefore became me. I can see that cycle of life viscerally continued by walking through our graveyard, in which my grandparents and aunt and great-grandparents and great-uncles and cousins are buried, and which also abuts the land that feeds us now in its current incarnation as a vineyard run by my father and brother. All of us are, bodily, the company we keep and the places from which we derive. "



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