Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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“Love of learning” is what
Philomath means. This side of a ghost
town, what kids are here hang out
in gravel parking lots & hunt
pixelated deer at The Woodsman. They break
into gutted sanctuaries
of timber mills, looking for places to leave
their neon aerosoled names. In Philomath,
Begg’s Tires is the only place
to buy new chains, Cherry Tree’s the best
price on feed, & Ray’s has everything
from meds to milk to Lucky
Strikes & pocket knives. The only outlet
in Philomath sells wood, the kind that grows
just here & in the holy lands. True
Value boasts all the sturdy dead
bolts for when the back door’s gone
busted again. My friend
Megan is still giving out
blow jobs to mechanics & drinking
red cough syrup until she doesn’t
care about her step-
dad walking around, covered in nothing
but sweat & dirt. “Me & you are
gonna get trashed tonight,” she says to me
every night. I ask my dad if Megan can move
in & he says, “Twelve cats & two
dogs are enough.” In Philomath, I’d be lying
if I said people don’t get saved
every week at the Nazarene Church, where
Megan & I go to Vacation
Bible School & sing about going “straight
to heaven or down the hole,” where the pastor slips
nylons over our faces & tells us to suck
pudding from a bucket just to show how far we’ll go
to be forgiven. We swallow it all
because this is how you get close
to God in Philomath. When Megan’s dad learns
she’s saved & he’s not, he teaches her
a lesson about being
sorry & how God is not
watching Philomath. On Monday, Megan’s eyes
can hardly open & our school
bans Liquid Paper & permanent
markers & the word
“bomb,” because they could cause us
to die before our time. Megan spends
breaks in the bathroom & I know not
to follow her. I go to the library, where I check out
A Season in Hell because they don’t
have Illuminations & never will & I feel alone
around all the smart kids who raise up
pigs to pay for college. They belong
to 4-H & know how to sell living
meat to the highest bidder. They get made
fun of by people like Megan & me
& the boys who only wear camo & talk
about the beauty of a deer
spitting up its life & most anybody
the teachers have given up
on, which is nearly everyone. I care about
Philomath & its “Love
of Learning” bumper stickers that turn
invisible under mud, its historical
society that hangs
quilts over the walls of Paul’s
Place (where loggers get Bottomless
Joe), that documents every haunting,
every sighting of a ghost, & Megan is still
in the bathroom stall, learning what it means
to be in Philomath for good.  

Devon Walker-Figueroa, “Philomath” from Philomath: Poems. Copyright © 2021 by Devon Walker-Figueroa. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Milkweed Editions.

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