Jake Adam York


Gadsden, Alabama
The finger is gone that pointed the way
so the General could escape,
the Confederate who would enshrine the finger
and its girl and turn them into stone,
and now the finger is gone from the marble hand,
proving every body is mutable,
however white, so the finger is just a story
of a finger that points to its absence
which everyone ignores as they pass
incognito as the getaways
of suburban legend, having gloved the hand
and hung until it gave
so they could move like Forrest
away from the water and into history,
lost in the crowd or the trees, until that day
after each Thanksgiving
when all the county’s majorettes, its quarterbacks
and former mayors and fez-hatted shriners
file in their large white Cadillacs,
those heroes among them, waving
as they pass down Broad Street, disappearing
as if she still pointed the way.
They don’t look back. Behind her the bridge
arches over the compendious river,
into the dimmer streets of East Gadsden
where one parade night two men
knocked then shot a preacher in his door,
sure of a Black Panther front, a fist
they had to keep from rising, then pulled away,
slowly, as if in their own parade,
these Klansmen, Forrest’s distant kin,
scanning the windows and the doors,
passing the boarded juke and the store
where months later a neighborhood teen
would rob and hold the clerk at gunpoint
and push him into the storeroom
and douse him in gasoline then light the match
just to scare him, he’d say,
before the flames went up, burning his face
into a map of the county, everyone would read
as an answer, leaving him to stagger,
leaving him to crawl toward the door
to call out through the slow bleed of dawn.
In Greek, elegy means mourning song,
a poem for what’s been lost, and the Greeks
always cut something from their lines
a syllable or two, to create a silence
or a place to hear it, maybe breaking meter
and slipping in an iamb, which means limping
or lame, like the gait of a wounded man,
stepping quick then stopping, so the pain can arrive,
and so the elegy, the mourning song,
reaches for what’s missing or left behind,
like the woman who found the preacher
gasping in his door,
or the one who knelt beside the clerk,
on the banks of a silence she could not ford,
or like the teenager, or like the finger,
or the fist it leaves behind as if to say
even memory can forget itself
and be written into another history,
while everyone is looking at something else.
The Caddies slide into the night
and are folded once again beneath their hoods.
The cheerleaders, the shriners and the quarterbacks
take off their suits and enter the crowds again,
and we drive through those streets
where the night, where the day falls
as indifferently as before.
We come over the bridge.
We do not look back.
We think of the girl as we pass,
and the finger we imagine still pointing the way.

Jake Adam York
“Elegy” is from Persons Unknown (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010).