Full Blood

Ian Burnette

2013 First Prize

On Friday morning
I drive Aunt Alé to her job

where she decorates cakes
for little more than the cab fare

it takes to get there.
She does not cry

in the car as she did
the night before—when she

cooked her famous stew
for us, when the kitchen counter

was strewn with garlic cloves,
ginger thumbs, and finger chilis,

the legs and arms and cheeks
of Kentucky steer—but

sits straight-faced as we
shoot across country roads and

pass burned-out schoolhouses.
I imagine she is

praying to the holy
temple of my uncle’s colostomy,

because she knows as well as I
how even the strong people

tend to run out into a pool of
unwound gossamer, a roll

of ticker tape that stops ticking
sooner or later.

Finally I ask her if she
is doing OK, and I know what

we both consider: her peeling
trailer home and the medical

expenses, the year she was homeless
because my uncle’s father

didn’t want a gook in the house.
Tonight when I tell Aunt Alé

good-bye, I will hug her small shoulders
and feel the world shifting its weight

from foot to foot,
as if she were the only one of my family

who knows it, and then I will realize again
her life is not just a series of

unfortunate events but something
more than I could ever understand— 

how she knows these rolling
hills of haunted-blue, the cold water and

hollow-bellied barns, and
the way everyone who stumbles

across the veined edges of Lake Cumberland
seems to find some kind of light

in her part of the world.

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