Traci Elliott: Poetry: Oct 2021

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I come from Charlotte. When I was little, we went to church at Long Creek Baptist, and I was baptized by a preacher named Kenny, all the way under the water, but just for a second, hardly long enough to think I’d died. I never really had the salvation experience I’d said I’d had, never was really saved. That lie might be an especial sin. I tried, but it just never took. In college in the Virginia mountains, I learned to think about God as a literary motif, intellectualized and sterile. And then, when the boys were born, we joined the Frozen Chosen Episcopal Church. I do love the liturgy — all those words. Now, though, I’m on my own, making it up as I go.


You don’t long for the sea or the tides, until sunset and moonrise, sails and currents and waves of meaning, crashing and sucking, vortexing, angling you down and deeper down.  Only we understand, only we know the truth, the way, and the lightening.

It’s only in dreams that our eyes relax and unfocus, and then we breathe deeply of Old Spice and the ancient longing ache for annihilation and death and rest.  We know not what we do, what we want, where we are.  We ask for a map at the Texaco and they hand us a viper instead, slim and slippery, sibylline.  We imagine a robe and wand, a crystal ball, arcana and secrets, esoterica, erotica, transportania.

We wave our hands and wait for the hour when we can know one another, deeply and fully, when the self-help books will all ignite, all of them burning burning burning until the silhouette crashes against a horizon of airplanes and pony rides, secrets and whispers and ass’s ears, telephone and handy cap, long dusks and pouring rain and almost home.

Branches and aches and cricks in your trick knee, an old football injury, when you drove your car off the mountain, drunk and dark and raining then, too, fraternity brothers no one suspected or hoped, each of you alone and empty, hungry for something, we never knew what, and oh! those lonely pine trees and the snow-covered hours, stuck and homesick.

We circle around, circle one another like wagons or boats, sleds of dissatisfaction, hardware-feed-fertilizer, everything nothing you need, all of it.  We watch each note of dusk, each ream of hay, every shaft of angling want.  We press and hate and insist, wishing we could recognize peace, one another (any one of us!) alien and alone, fragile, bewildered.  We are without grace and mercantile, our quarries laid bare, open and willing, untold ages unlocked, passed over and sacrificed for us.  Let us keep the peace.

Angle out to one corner or another, guard your face and your heart, the witless and humorless among us, all of us in shiny ears and plastic clothes, dressed up like Barbies and wishing for impossibly white teeth and gums healthy and hollow.

A test is a different matter altogether, with wide lawns and glass walls and a maid who comes on Tuesday because her daughter has visiting hours on Thursday and she won’t miss it for the world or even an extra twenty, even though I tried, I offered it to her but she won’t miss that time out there with Tammy for anything, like I said.  She knows it all.

Angels and demons in one place, small boys and a stairway with red carpet, candles and flames and ice, darkness that closes and opens, makes and unmakes, begins and spirals and circles and refuses to end.  It is time itself, unfurling and asking for forgiveness, weeping like Rachel, reaching for what cannot be there.  Only at dawn does the family stroke its temples, ask directions, admit its anger.  Only when it cannot eat, cannot toast its Christmases past, its graduation day, only when the sun finds it in an unfamiliar bed, sore and ashamed, then it asks for a crumb, a sip of wine, a ride to the bus station.

When the river flows past, the rope swing and the things you missed, stoned and superficial, your face buried in my hands, two long days of crying in the farmhouse, soup and bread and dusty bed clothes.  Then you asked for love, from far away and I sang a lullaby and gave myself a medal and the day off and a long slow ride, the bonfire and marshmallow creme and hot dog dust, all of it in my shoes, wandering.  Wondering where we’d all go, what we’d do, how much we’d drink and wish for a way to turn back on time and eat it raw.