Every child should have one, a pair, really,
a matched set, set apart just the right width
so that one foot pressed against each one
leaves you stretched out about as far
as you can go, unable to move, feeling
almost trapped, almost actually in danger.
And every child should walk them as if
that’s what they were intended for,
leading out of town, around the curve,
along the river, revealing the backsides
of people’s homes, clotheslines and refuse,
the yards you weren’t supposed to see.
And every child should learn to balance
atop the railhead without the constant
unsightly tipping from side to side,
should be able to step exactly the distance
between the ties consistently, almost
marching without kicking up ballast.
And every child should have a bridge
they go under to hide and look
at dirty magazines and smoke cigarettes
and place coins on the rails to flatten
and see if this could be the one
to cause the train to leap the tracks.
And every child should know the lonely
distant sound of late night travel
when bad dreams have kept them awake
wondering where they come from, what
they bring or take, and where when it’s all
done they might return and call home.
Crossroads where boulders rise
between Hodges and Ninety-Six,
Greenwood and Laurens, names
people might recognize, homage
to the quarry that kept three generations
of Garrisons, Harvleys, Hollingsworths,
microcosm of the American South,
Garrisons atop the hill, brick homes,
land left to woods or rented out,
worked by others, reaching
all the way back to the river,
managing schedules and paychecks,
sales and delivery, Harvleys half-way
down, wooden homes, on seven acres
they work to death for chickens and cows,
corn and the best tomatoes in three counties,
driving shovels and buckets, Hollingsworths
along the dusty road, a narrow strip
of land, two-room block homes
or later used trailers, drilling holes,
loading machines, setting charges
to break out proverbial hard places,
homes always half-empty.
From that hill I could see
the asphalt plant choking the sky,
the girl scout camp beneath the pines
that echoed laughter on summer nights,
seven acres of red cows and corn,
the highway’s red clay bank
leading the way to anywhere else.
Only in back the trees rose up,
a pine wall too thick to see
through, too tall to see over,
but quarry sounds kept imagination’s
beasts alive and creeping closer.
Why should this be home,
a place I lived only between
other homes, once a year,
a month at a time at least till 12,
a place where evening sang with voices
of the old, the unambitious,
the not-too-distant wild,
a place where dying had its own season,
and everything smelled like dirt.
A place is just a place,
one as good or bad as the other.
It’s the people you care for,
or hate, who keep you
coming back, or never let you go.
The poems are all asleep now,
bedded down beneath their blanket
of exhaustion, mental fatigue,
satisfaction. No one lives here
anymore, the old man and woman
both gone, children grown up,
caught up in other lives, grandchildren,
married off, moved away.
The hill is still there, of course,
and one house still sits upon it,
the other become a part of the hill
itself. There are still pecan trees
and stray flowers, and new rocks
rising each winter, and the pines have regained
half their height, but the cows
belong to someone else now,
an absent renter, and no garden graces
the hillside, as if the land could only
be used and never again possessed.
-all poems previously published at The Dead Mule