On Seeing Where My Father’s Fingers Were Buried

Here in this valley grown with weeds, that hill
above us looking down, I see a mill

and feel its creak and smell the fresh-ground flow
that cooking made so sweet. And here I know

that echoes of a father’s past crowd in.
The old man’s memory hears it now as then.

Run quick and fetch a doctor round the hill
and mend the sudden damage of that mill

that chopped with cane the fingers stuck into
it by this boy. My thoughts on looking flew

past all those years I stared at its misshape
and though but little of a hand’s escape

through surgery done by gathered lanterns low
to serve my Dad these many years till now.

He pointed with it then. He showed the spot
where he and brother George next day took what

was left, two fingers dead, and with some care
dug in the earth and placed them wondering there.

A curious grave we’d come to see.
We went away, and left it be.                 

David H. Briggs

Because he had lost the index and middle fingers of his right hand, my father always shook hands left-handed. The mill that took his fingers ground sugar cane to make sorghum molasses. It was powered by a walking mule but had to have cane fed into it by hand.  The boyhood home site where this incident occurred was near Brush Creek, North Carolina.  Brush Creek is located near Asheville and today claims a population of 500. My father left Brush Creek to cross the mountains and attend Maryville College in East Tennessee.  After earning his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, he returned to teach at Maryville College for most of his life. When we visited my father’s home site, nothing remained of the original buildings, but my father still claimed that he knew the location of his buried fingers “within ten feet.”

3 thoughts on “On Seeing Where My Father’s Fingers Were Buried”

  1. Ed, I am always in awe of and so enjoy both your past and newly discovered talents: Minister, author, swimmer extraordinaire, world traveler, and now poet. Thank you for sharing with me.

    Hope you and Karen are well. My best to both of you.


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