Southern Legitimacy Statement My father and his ancestors are from the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina, mainly Haywood, Henderson and Buncombe Counties. We spent many summers there at the old family homestead in Crabtree and with family in Clyde, Waynesville and Hendersonville, where I learned to drink water from the springhouse and to love fried okra, sweet tea, and milk gravy on everything. Later, I lived much further south than this in Costa Rica, where I learned to love gallo pinto, the woman who became my wife, and good coffee.
The Cheapest Rent in Town
You might notice a few things out of place—
like plastic where the living room
windows should have been,
an ashtray as large as an overturned car,
always full, and too heavy to be moved,
a pervasive cold—so cold in fact, that someone’s
vomit once froze to the bathroom floor.
Our late friend, Sam, parked his cab on the front porch,
while the dispatcher squawked from the radio
as we watched the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Later, our entertainment became Barry
hurling TV’s through living room windows
and an autumn of broken glass.
Night after night we’d pour Sam back
behind the wheel to drive another one off
into the darkness of another era
as Jane sobbed in the black and white stills
of the attic room, and doves moaned softly
in the eaves just outside her window.
Of course, I couldn’t wait to get out of that madhouse.
I wanted to be somewhere else,
in a real job, away from college,
in another city—
somewhere there was life.
For twenty some-odd years now,
always longing to be somewhere else,
and like a heavy, old-fashioned television
I lug it all around wherever I go.
Tell Me If You’ve Heard This One
Guy steps out of a bar in Skagway, Alaska,
where two bellicose loggers square off with chainsaws
and winds up walking to Mexico, where he sees
a dead horse burning on the side of the road.
No one sends out an invite, but he keeps going through Guatemala,
Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, eating mangoes
and slinging his grateful hammock
in the trees of the village square;
All the way to Costa Rica,
where the widower in San Antonio says
he won’t stop wearing his dead wife’s clothes
until his dust is mingled with hers.
Guy looks away, into the sun,
on his way to Panama, hitchhiking
with arms that grow thinner
each passing year.
The bear wallows in seeming delight,
creating shallow depressions in the land,
scratching its back on the trunks of great trees,
strewing the sumac, the aspen stand,
and the widlflower meadow with debris,
giving flight to game birds nestled
within the goldenrod and hazel,
compelling the scolding of a squirrel,
then claiming stillness as its right.
Wallowing in remembrance of its long winter’s dream:
fishing for fat pink salmon in green, milt-strewn rivers flush with roe,
poised with all its bulk and might on one wobbling log,
its great hunger gnawing the air, the spray of whitewater flowing
among boulders, beneath rainbows and mayflies spawning;
gobbling mounds of honey in the bee-loud glade
the dripping combs filling fur, snout and throat
with the growl of angry bees inside.
If you catch a glimpse
on the lip of a grassy hummock
or stumble upon this roiling scene
at the edge of muskeg, fen or mossy ground,
look up, hold your breath, and
you may see a large dark blur disappear
into the thin space between two birches.
Something so large, moving so fast, like a mountain
or the elements incarnate, something impossible,