Poem of the Week | November 06, 2017

This week, we are excited to offer a new poem by Bobby C. Rogers. Rogers’ first book, Paper Anniversary, was awarded the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities, and the Arts’ Arlin G. Meyer Prize in Imaginative Writing, and was nominated for the Poets’ Prize. In 2016, his book, Social History, was published by LSU Press in their Southern Messenger Poets Series. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Charitable Trusts, and was named a Witter Bynner Fellow at the Library of Congress by Poet Laureate Charles Wright. His poems have been included in several anthologies, most recently the Knopf Everyman’s Library Poems of the American South.

 

Unlicensed, Unbonded, Uninsured

 

If a tree needed to come down, the Vickers brothers were who to talk to. It’s good              to be the person who gets called
for something. They showed up in two trucks, one needed to jump off the other                 when it wouldn’t crank. My father was paying
in cash money no one was going to report. My mother asked what were those                      Vickers boys’ names again, and he told her: Unlicensed, Unbonded,
and Uninsured. I could see that not much more was required to become                                 the expert in that town than to come when called. Already

 

a big wedge of the day had been wasted. “That whole crew smells like                                      a whiskey still”—my father’s voice could bring disgust and amusement
in the same breath. We watched the youngest brother rope himself into                                  the Spanish oak, and limbs began to fall, some large enough to gauge
shin-deep holes in the ground where they struck. The more shiftless brothers                        would amble over to start cutting them up
for cordwood, the other source of their untaxed earnings. My father liked                                 talking to workmen, drunk or sober. There was a craft

 

to everything, he believed, and he wanted to hear about it. Everyone had a job                        to get right, some piece of expertise to contribute, even
if it seemed there wasn’t much mystery to it at all. The brothers on the ground                         made half-hearted efforts to kick sawdust into the scars
their work left in the lawn. They were in the middle of a conversation                                            that’d been going round and round for years, still able to laugh
at the same turns in the stories. Then they heard a flurry of cursing                                             from above and the youngest Vickers came rapelling

 

down the tree like an Army Ranger dropping out of a Huey, which he may                                 have been not too long ago. His chainsaw had found
a beehive in a hollow member of the tree and the bees weren’t taking it                                    peaceably. The other Vickerses looked up in time to see
the limb twisting off with a baritone crack that echoed against                                                      the neighbors’ houses. They skipped to the side so it could land
between them, a near catastrophe to be considered in silence, then they                                    were all flailing and cussing, whirling like devil-possessed cloggers

 

until they found refuge in the cab of the closest truck, not caring if it                                             was the one that wouldn’t start. Miss Russelene Summers, retired
from the Home Ec. department at the high school, was who to call                                               for bees. She arrived directly, donning her veiled hat and lighting
the burlap in her smoker. She located the queen and collected the workers                                 to take home to her bee yard, but not before chatting with my father
about the clover crop as they brushed the occasional bee off their shirts.                                     The Vickerses reemerged undiscouraged and got back at it, still

 

a lot of tree to cut down. “Bet they kept a bottle in the truck,” my father                                       would say, playing up their drinking a little more
every time the story got told. He knew enough not to burn the belt-high stump                          they would leave and kill the termites inside
who had their own work to be about. He could have stood out there all day                                  watching the men finish a job that was becoming
a degree or two less dangerous with each cut, and would have, except his wife                          was in the doorway calling him to the phone.

 

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