Black Walnut

Say it was an afternoon in September.

We were set to shell the nuts

that had been drying for days in the sun

trays of them, hulls like small

grenades, thick green flesh

stubborn to our prying blades

exposed shells scuffed and splotchy

ready for the hammer crack.

If we did it right, sister and mother and I,

the nutmeats gleamed gold among

the shards that sieved through our sorry


xxxxxxxxxWe worked our way through shuck

and glume at the round table, just beyond

the shade of the big tree that caused all

the bother, the pucker that makes Black Walnut

the garden scourge, choking off all but

the short list of compatible plants

while it thrives above them, raining down

hard fruits, and our fingers stained

brown from the handling.

Every afternoon with her

was a cottage industry, a stay

against want.

What she spent a lifetime resenting

could be my subject–

how more than once

her mother woke her and her sister,

our aunt, with a shake to the small shoulder

day break code word, lips

to ear before the impossible

rent fell due, or the way first

poverty, then bad luck shaped

her mouth, her marriages–

                                but not for me

to write what she could not tell.

My subject is how desire and

will work in and against

a woman every day

until she delivers

herself, alone

at last into the black

xxxxxxby means of a simple

tool. Behind the scrim of her

words, the world splintered

into perfect halves and

crumbs, what was told

to me, what

was asked

of me, how to sort

the hospitable from

the intolerant, how

to worm myself

into the spaces between, there

on the hardscrabble

patio, near the shade

of the bountiful

toxic tree.


Cassandra Cleghorn’s Four Weathercocks was published in 2016 by Marick Press. Her poems and reviews have appeared in journals including Paris Review, Yale Review, Poetry International, Colorado Review, Boston Review, Field and Tin House. She lives in Vermont, teaches at Williams College, regularly reviews poetry for Publishers Weekly and serves as poetry editor of Tupelo Press. For more info see


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