Women grease a watermelon with Crisco. Men divide
into teams, dive into the deep end, and wrestle it out
of the water. Each year, the rules are the same:
to win requires the shell cracked on concrete.
We were children. We toed the edge. When one of our fathers
heaved it up, out, with enough force to shatter it,
we scooped the fruit to our mouths, competed to spit seeds farthest. Little bullets.
Josh Roberts was bravest, the first to peel the water wings
off his skinny arms, climb the high dive ladder, cannonball
into the bright water. He said that at the bottom, he’d seen a Ferris wheel
like the one at the state fair, except the seats were rusted, filled
with skeletons of those who’d lived in our houses before us.
Their bones, he swore, were clothed in algae; water snakes
threaded the eye sockets. And some of us believed
him, because we did not know better. We did not yet know
from all those seeds we spat, those rinds chucked over the fence to rot,
wild vines would shoot up, grow heavy with melon. We could not
yet know that another summer, Josh Roberts would be caught
in the guardhouse, pressing his lips to a boy who was not
drowning. By then, we would not speak of below, but beyond:
an ocean. Another country of bullets, real ones, where
Josh is now. And again I am here, at summer’s center,
to witness another year: whole, floating; and all of us
circling to touch it, and it slipping from our hands,
spinning in the water; and Josh, not here; and another boy
in the guard chair. He is twirling a whistle in spirals
on his finger. It glints silver in the July light, like a little galaxy,
like a Ferris wheel, like a child cannonballing into the next year
and the next. And I am watching. And I am waiting
for the pause, the melon in that moment of suspension:
lifted from the water, before it shatters, and the flies
descend, and we scoop it up, and fill our mouths
with its summer; I don’t know why I’ve come back,
except to stand here, and witness what we’ve broken, and break,
and will it to be beautiful, to feed.
Jennifer Leonard’s (née Luebbers) work has recently appeared in Ninth Letter, Mid-American Review, and Washington Square Review. She has held scholarships and fellowships at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, New York State Summer Writers Institute, and Indiana University, where she received her MFA in poetry and served as Editor-in-Chief of Indiana Review. She was a 2013 Ruth Lilly finalist and is currently serving as the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing.