blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Hitchhiking in the Dying South

I have seen the morning spread over the fields
            & I have walked on, trying to forget
how it seemed as if daybreak was founded
            on the most fragile web of breath,
& I had blown it.

            Then I thought it might not exist at all,
nor had it ever. That it was only the idea of breath
            & the egrets asleep in sour-grass were the idea
of flight, & if I was to breathe in,
            it would all just disappear.

I have seen the spotted toads at dusk
            come up from the ditches after a rainstorm
& into the asphalt's steam & I have seen them
            crushed by lumber trucks, then lifted away
into the pines by the gathering crows.

            I have felt the night quiver with heron's wing
over the swamps, over wild pigs in a blackberry patch,
            their snouts bloody & alive in the moonlight,
& I have walked on, dirty, alone, kicking to the grasses
            the swollen bodies of possum, squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, bobcat,
giving them no prayer, no peace-filled silence.

            But that was long ago, when work was scarce
& meant thumbing my way to the tobacco plant
            or the slaughterhouse, north up Highway 17
to Holly Ridge or down to Bulltail on 210,
            either way I would be shoveling something until dusk,
something soft & warm & beyond me.
            And I would be glad for it.

Walking with that forgotten gesture wavering
            in the morning air, I felt that people
could come into the world in a place
            they could not at first even name,
& move through it finally, like the dawn,
            naming each thing until filled with a buoyancy,
a mist from the river's empty rooms.

            Thumb of autumn, thumb of locust, thumb of every kissed lip.

I have seen a cow die under the wheels
            of a Cadillac going 60, & who's to say
what the cow got from this?
            Some would say a dignity, perhaps,
past the slaughterhouse
            & the carcasses swimming the eaves.

            Or was it a punishment for nudging open
the gate-latch, the driver of the car
            in shock, mouthing cow, cow,
& the crows in the pines answering
            with the kind of sympathy my foreman used
when one of his line-workers
            cut off another finger in the shredder.
Son, at least you still got your arm.

            It's difficult to get this straight,
but there was a beauty to the sparks
            that spread out under the car, under the cow,
as they went from flesh to asphalt to flesh again:
            fireflies in the hollow of the hills:
a blanket of white petals from the tree of moon.

            A brief & miniature dawn began,
there on a summer night in the South
            I had come to love as part of myself,
the sparks clinging in the grass for a moment,
            unbearably bright, a confused moth nuzzling up
to the reflection of a flame shining in
            the cow's one open eye.

Now that I think of it, there was maybe even
            a beauty in the cow's fat, white body, a peace
I would never know, as it took in the car,
            lay down with it: calf soft: morning breath.

This peace had a body, it was caught up in the night,
            made from night, there on the shoulder of a road
so endless even the stars shrugged it off
& took the sparks as one of their own.  

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