Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Crossing the Line // A Poem
When your car tires bump
-fwump fwump—over the stateline
and the drivers speeding beside you
tap their carhorns to signal a homecoming,
you find yourself staring at the dismal
stretch of highway ahead,
the same as that stretching behind you:
the only hint to your arrival in Dixie,
the Great Peach State, the Empire State
of the South, the home of the O’Haras
for God’s sake, is the orange cartoon fruit
dominating the welcome sign.
Otherwise, it’s all asphalt, big rigs, and litter
with occasional signage yelling
that Jesus loves you, yes He does
or lottery tickets sold here, play and win big.
you ask, are the cotton fields, the peach
orchards, the rednecks with their rebel
emblazoned Chevys? Where
can I find the bluegrass twang
or the pearl-collared debutantes
and their quarterback counterparts?
Where, you demand,do the magnolias grow
their lemon-scented petals blanketing
the earth, and where can I find
the twisted oaks with their sagging shawls
of Spanish moss crawling with insects?
And where, once more, are the white brick
mansions with their fluted columns
and sprawling fields? And, oh, can you tell me
where I might find a Confederate, please
one is wanted dead or alive?
Here.Take this exit, yes. Here, now.
If you want to see and hear and taste this land
you call the South—south of what?--then follow
an old road into a forgotten, half-empty
town bypassed by culture and progress.
In buildings half-eaten by wisteria
growing in clumps and tangles
order vinegar slaw and smoked pork
in a basket, drink enough sweet ice tea
to rot your teeth or at least stain them yellow
Here we have a Hallmark, a Bi-Lo,
a dirty Wendy’s, and y’know I hear
they’re putting in a Walmart by the highway.
Drive further still and you’ll collide
with the first tendril trails
of industrial sprawl, strip malls
and condominiums cropping up,
reaching for the quiet pastures and mountains
like grasping fingers.
If you want to stretch your legs
and don’t mind clay stains
on your white tennis shoes,
you can lean on this here fence post,
mind the barbed wire coming loose.
Walk soft through tall fescue,
wary that your footfalls don’t discover
a coiled rattler. Don’t lift that sun-warmed
rock unless you want the sting
of the scorpion hidden beneath.
Catch the flutter of sunlight
in the quick fly-flick of a chestnut’s tail,
her hide dappled brown with sweat
from the heat that settles
and cloaks your skin and mouth.
Mosquitos, no-see-ums, horseflies,
copperheads, cottonmouths,and water-moccasins
gliding and circling nearby, always.
And so much green sun-tinged
yellow: the tangled undergrowth,
the knee-high weeds, and the thistles
with their ungraceful purple blooms.
And there, finally,
the sought-after peach orchard,
squat trees in brisk rows,
the laden branches drooping
to the fallen fruit, rotten
and oozing on the orchard floor.
dangling in the sunlight,
its flesh yielding in your hand. Round,
delicately soft and flushed pink.
Something sweet and nourishing,
spurting sugar, something sweet
you can sink your teeth into.