Southern Legitimacy Statement:
I was raised in Florida in the days when I could ride my horse across New River Bridge and tie her to a parking meter while I shopped in the 5 & 10. (yes. a nickle and a dime) Arkansas took hold of me in 1973; hasn’t let go yet. I was an accidental Texan for a while. In the land of Budweiser and boviculture, I kept trying to get back to the mountains. When I went to school in Vermont, one of my buddies and I ordered a sack of grits shipped in so the cooks could make grits for everybody–not everybody ate them. Right now, I live in the Arkansas Ozarks and damned glad of it.
It’s a long hurry down I-49 to I-10 to 12, sliding through
the bad news: losses and spills. When we touch the Mississippi coast,
there’s no oil smell, no greasy beach, only exhaust,
the highway thunder and whine. It won’t be no jazz funeral,
no Lake Pontchartrain outing. This trip is about dirt
and how it swallows us up. They say she went easy;
they say she was happy; they tell us sea water takes care of itself
as a line of trawlers dips over the horizon, seining for shrimp or crude.
Fishing boats at the dock wait for what’s coming on the next tide.
At her wake, we turn our backs to the harbor, we talk and sing
and listen to the preacher preach about her new home,
how clear and blessed the water is in glory, how it takes in a human scrap.
For lunch we take out: tuna and white bread, pimento cheese,
grapes and cookies for dessert, then pile into our trucks and vans and V8s,
stream from the Gulf up 55 to Middle Mississippi where 90 feels like 100 degrees
from humidity and grief, where her grave lies in a reunion of graves
and most plots display her family name,
where there’s no sound of waves and no shore to gather reek and scum.
When you pass the coyote you say to yourself, this is not a dog,
head and tail down in the shy glide of a second-eater-to-the-carcass,
her slant darkness withdrawn from the verges near Jasper.
The signs: OZARK, PECHES, PUPIES FOR SALE, hand-lettered
in Sharpie on poster board, flash past your window as dawn
comes to Boxley, lavish as a flare, tears her stockings to tangerine
scrap on a rose bush twisted into a sorry fence, as you drive
into the new light that slides under a lone, low-hanging pine.
Let your glance then catch on an acre luscious with berries, on a roan,
hind foot cocked, pastern down, skin rippling like a wind-blown
stock pond. Be grateful for these mountains but don’t pause
to ogle the almost-dog, the fly-ridden hill horse. These mountains
can overrun your mind like wisteria drowns a whitewashed porch.
Just keep going. Drive on past.
“This Piece I’m writing for Bassoons”
This piece…etc. etc thrown into a larger conversation.
Who says that? Bassoonists, of course. Composers imagining the bass notes, floating below the thin orchestral vibrations. The wolfish instrument, a hinge between the street and the boom of low woods, bats and night birds, where boys stalk the creek, amazed to find a skull they dig free and with no hesitation name “dead Earnest,” set on their windowsill, talk to, ordain their confessor, their fellow traveler in crazy rites of passage.
Torchlit and barefoot, these boys given to weed and T Rex, outgrow their bones, never get enough to eat, their unpredictable voices straddle the octaves. After forty years, do they remember how cold the cold was in our rattletrap houses? How we were always moving, packing, always semi-strangers at the table? Do they remember, playing on our crappy stereo, that piece that featured a bassoon?
after you burn your childhood down to black sticks
after you tie up its backyard mutt, after you desert
the little world of subfusc appetite and refuse to be tractable
only after this may you live in the new century
in a country where the sun infiltrates the shutters
creeps into your room and presses slyly against your shoulders
your backbone then eases its sweaty thighs up to your butt
to detonate the distance between then and now
in order to do this you must first relive Florida on
that September night you lit out across the razed furrows of 1962
with a date whose name you’ve long since forgotten
in that field it will be possible to meet your future
to share a smile with that other you the one who escaped
fleeing the fifties in her radiant charred skin.