Southern Legitimacy Statement: Mark Vogel has lived in the back of a Blue Ridge holler for the past twenty two years with ducks, cats, dogs, horses, and his family. He teaches English at Appalachian State University.
Who owns what
They crawled up the house like we could never do,
and brazen lived in the chimney behind the metal grate,
coughing, snoring, making hidden beds behind walls.
Unbelievable how at home comfortable they were,
so that more than once, in yellow evening, with
the back door open, they walked in to eat cat food
in the kitchen like we were sleep-in servants
hardly worth noting, here for their needs,
like we could never own anything.
At a time when spiders lived in cities in the stone basement,
an unreal chattering seeped from darkness. I tiptoed
so tentative on creaky stairs, ready for a horror show,
and flipped the light and saw actors in a cheesy sit-com.
Five adolescent coons amongst ripped trash bags
eating pizza and cantaloupe rinds sprinkled with
coffee grounds. Eyes a-glitter saying stanky party
with no boundaries, like shame could only exist for us.
Decades later, ripe torn flesh like an insult is headless
in the barn—a peace loving duck rendered red meat
and bad dream, while round the corner an unearthly
growl promises to rip and tear without reflection.
In a gray metal trap a grizzled murdering boar coon
with rough eyes aches to hurt, a twisted lone ranger
gone bad. Within an hour, searching for someone else’s
rocky woods, I drive fifteen miles of mountain roads.
On a ridge top lonely and stark, just us two,
I look down on blueberries, rhododendron, laurel,
the blue hills going forever. Ignoring his continuous
threatening rumble, I release him from his wire cage.
Without hesitation he turns west, his powerful legs
churning, heading straight back home.
When the Appalachian states
have been made into mega prisons
Confident Talking Head 843 rips apocalyptic chaos
from context, stating one in thirty U.S. males
has experienced the Penal System as home,
while outside the cable world in a blue beaten rental
ten miles up an Appalachian road pot-head Ronnie,
with flecks of pepper in his beard, wakes Southern proud,
but ashamed of having done time.
Up another road, mumbling to himself, John Henry’s
molasses talk no longer smells of whiskey drinking
in a neglected dog pen—a decade since Fat Pansy
rescued him from county lockup and submerged him
in primitive baptism. Now he grows beard
and belly, never neglecting children,
or his precious hogs in the woods.
In this intimate and isolated Meat Camp, North Carolina,
Max drags a bum leg up the ladder to caulk,
above his nine year old boy learning lessons building
shaded Lego castles. At lunch Max will share
sandwiches, RC cola, tales of long gone cocaine days,
the wildness living behind a quiet smile—
his poem a tattoo of records glued to skin,
while closer to town scarred Danny tweaks a ring
in his eyebrow, his Martian orange hair rattling
with electricity. His college degree earned inside
feeds manic teaching for nursing students eager to cure,
the story of being busted once, twice, three times—
Quaaludes, primo pot, a fist of pills—learning
to dream while locked within state limitations.
Off the mountain swirling fear injected wind fuels
bogus blinded toughness eager to punish, to open wide
a blackened maw. So tiresome this soiled morning,
state and federal wallets lying on the bureau ready
to pay for a thousand crowded holes. Even with
churches on every corner, no one dares speak
for those no longer innocent.
the necessary interludes
Fresh spring mounting splashing
love making is over and Leonard sunbathes
on the rocky clay shore, eyes closed
while two black and white sons in the yard
shift and preen, waiting for a cue.
In the absence of his mate Joanne and her
king-making eyes, Lenny is awkward,
dull, neutered, dreaming her nudging pecks,
seductive walks through garden jungle,
her sleek flights to water. Not so far
removed in the dark barn, Joanne deposits
one egg a day into her feathered nest,
then sits with faith on a growing young.
Her internal clock counts meditative time.
For weeks Lenny wallows lethargic
even with worms in the garden and corn
in the barn, an algae-rich pond for swimming.
He walks instead of flying and hisses
at amoral sons crass enough to fuck
their own mother, until the air itself tires
and stalls. Then Bingo one shining May morning
like it was all planned, and fourteen yellow and
brown fluff balls bounce in a happy line,
nothing cuter quacking eagerness, and Lenny
all a-move is tall, red wattle vibrating, knowing
to strut, preen, stare down cats as the gaggle
rub close, then swirl in water. Amazing,
a growing summer appears as one whole
continuous line. For the thousandth time
a tired past has been painted over, immediately
forgotten, like it never existed.
Another motley game on a know nothing August night
in a league where no catcher can catch, in bottom
division play-offs rigged so every team can win.
Blindly loyal fans seek excuses to cheer, but instead
they get kid-movie scenes with insects swimming in lights,
slow motion pop ups, dribbling rollers—son/dad/boyfriends
acting communal molasses parody.
Another strike out and players cluster, plotting strategy,
seeking energy as the game drains for the final last inning outs.
Then a blink in the lights error—a man on, followed by
a slap double where comical boney legs churn,
and the air quickens like it does when baseball congeals,
finding evolving form. The opposing captain
for so long so stolid, takes charge, steals third,
and umpires gather in deliberate stall, the game drifting
in black clear night collecting in the hills. Then before
waiting stares an aluminum bat connects—a fly to center—
an intent runner waits like a frozen statue, then heads home.
With momentum hard the ball whistles straight/true,
faster than the determined running captain bald and bold,
and the catcher snags the rocket, and in one motion tags,
so much like art that the forgotten crowd erupts feeling/knowing
surprise reversal, how one thin foot makes all the difference.
Without a pause the championship trophy is held high
for snap shot grins, for all to clutch and hold. When
adrenaline settles into wet grass players walk bowlegged
and proud wearing dust and grass stains, collecting one last time
bats and balls, satisfied enough ancient ritual again,
as predicted, has produced a hero.