Alice Gorman: Southern Cross (poetry)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Dear editors, if born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, doesn’t qualify for a head to toe, imbued southerner, don’t read my poem.For twenty years, I have belonged to the Live Poets’ Society of Boca Grande, Florida, where I spend the winter these days. We published an anthology a few years go called “Island Dreams.” I also published a chapbook called “Summer in Tenants Harbor, a long time ago” after I fell in love with Maine. Nothing and no place has ever replaced my love of the South, even as I am conflicted over so much that is painful for so many. This poem reflects that pain.

Southern Cross

It isn’t the food
I’ve left behind:
sliced ripe tomatoes, white corn
off the cob with bits of green pepper,
turnip greens cooked to death
with fat back and salt,
barbequed pork ribs,
dripping Tabasco and catsup,
chicken drumsticks lifted
from hot bacon grease
in a black iron skillet
cornbread squares
baked without sugar,
served with Sunday dinner.

It isn’t the spring:
the piney woods briefly laced
with dogwood and azaleas,
a flow of yellow daffodils
crisscrossing green lawns,
the juxtaposition of forsythia,
wisteria and pussy willow,
the roar of John Deere tractors
plowing fields for cotton
and tobacco and grain,
daylight lingering
longer into the night.

It isn’t the summer:
the June aroma of magnolias,
creeping jasmine and gardenias,
fireflies flickering
through their milk bottle prisons,
metal chains creaking
on the back porch swing,
an attic fan thrumming,
pulling freshness and cool
into airless bedrooms at night.

It isn’t the music:
the wail of the blues
from the soil of Dockery Farms,
the shimmer of strings
from B.B. King’s “Lucille,”
the beat of Jerry Lee,
his feet on the piano,
the swivel of Elvis
in his blue suede shoes,
the fire in his voice
that ignited the world.

I’ve left behind:
cracked concrete and broken windows
in abandoned urban schools,
chickens poking and pecking
at the scorched August earth,
bony yard dogs baring yellowed teeth
to deter drug-addicts
from stealing the lone TV
in a three-room fatherless shack,
daughters pregnant at thirteen,
old jacked-up cars left to rust
in kudzu covered ditches,
a breach too wide
for all but a few
to reach the other side.

I’ve left behind:
a line of shiny SUV’s
in suburban carpool lanes,
endowed gymnasiums and football fields,
boys training to succeed their fathers,
girls twirling to the tune of “Dixie,”
gated communities with armed guards
protecting inherited possessions
of people professing love
in Sunday pews,
then voting against it
in every election,
ladies at cocktail parties
in urgent conversation
about the Club and the Help,
a vise of voices
squeezing my breath away.

I am gone
from my great-grandparents’
to the sin of slavery,
my parents’ belief
in separate but equal,
gone from despair
that stifles the air
like old smoke
in the ruins of
burned-out buildings.

I had to leave, but
I will never be gone
from all that I loved, or
from the guilt I bear
for my years
of silence.