First light in Clemson: sweet gum, sudden suddenness:
phlox in ditches, Slurpee of trumpet creeper –
a train, always looking, is always lost. Even
at the crossroads of Yonah Mountain and County Line –
lost with its thin face, grimace and square eyes.
See the runoff and fescue, red clay and pine.
Lost, and a long bone in the foothills near Toccoa;
one arc of a parenthesis, the other the Atlantic –
Jekyll, Sapelo. All night we cut through the dark
like insomnia; High Point, Salisbury – the windows
weren’t the only eyes: here a cement truck, there
an H&R Block, houses with lights on, most without.
Everything was static, even the motion – steel
on steel. Time birthed itself in the lurch and grind.
Green glow at stoplights. A Citgo, a Waffle House.
Two men discussed real estate, another snored.
What did the rail insist that thought reverted
to rain – dust, falling; that it’s not the tracks
that bear us, but the ties? Sentimental, yes,
but mother I’m coming to see you. I hope
your paperwhites are blooming in the glass bowl
on the dinner table, dangerous with fragrance
of lemon and honey, stalks a density easy
to hide behind as I leaned over the spoonfuls
of grits you always served more than the stomach
could take. You never pointed to the roots wormy
and white at the bulges of scalloped glass,
never to the one bud close to breaking
as though from birth to final waking, but offered
more meat, more spicy Velveeta grits. Mother,
is that woman who was my mother gone,
is her song more thrush now than chickadee,
will I miss her inchoate leaps of mind,
mistake her freedom as the truest gift? Dad’s fine.
The others are fine. You’re leaving him, fine.
We had to accept it in order to live
at all, and we did in time, as if that was
the gift. There’s blue in the sky now,
some brighter chapter of gray. Tankers
slow with oil lumber north. Always looking,
always lost; and vultures, a few hoods up
at the Brake & Lube; Piedmont miraculous with haze,
summer’s heavy equipment: candelabra of saw palmetto,
sumac, kudzu. Lost, and ninety degrees in Buford,
and the smoking car full, and yarrow, and mullein;
and Atlanta, fast and shiny and breathing hard.
Southern Crescent is reprinted from Making a Map of the River (Iris Press 2008).