7 June 2005
In childhood, as I recall, looking out
open windows 'cross a nameless dirt road,
familiar boundary, two directions.
This way leads to dark, muddy waters,
Dixie River, Flood Ditch, where objects float,
broken branches, broken bodies,
the flotsam and jetsam of the old South.
That way leads to dark people, hidden
in shotgun houses, in ramshackle shacks,
broken memories, broken dreams,
the flotsam and jetsam of the new South.
Aunt Beulah feared my free spirit,
my inability to be quiet,
the visions from her own childhood,
from the White River, from Sugarloaf Mountain,
Calico Rock where the bones are buried,
that Never Never Land beyond our house,
great grandmother's Chickasaw
I absorbed when too young to know
the River gets help from time to time
when it's hungry for human flesh.
Great Grandpa knew the River,
took barges up and down
and up and down
until one day he went up,
and never came down,
and the muddy waters turned,
and the clouds were scattered gray.
Making sense, as I recall, was never easy.
I looked wild enough, copper skinned, piercing eyes,
but even then misunderstood:
"Won't let no one hold him down and whup him,
runs like the wind and has no fear of death,
was seen in the woods, at eight, shooting deer
with his great aunt's rifle, sometimes a bow."
No. The moment I left my great aunt's house
if not in the woods, was in culture shock.
In the city, as I recall, I held my breath
at all the red and green and yellow lights,
at the chaotic movement of people,
and paved roads with whizzing automobiles,
of stone stairs that went up and up and up,
of houses so close you could jump from one to the other.
A lot of the kids were crazy,
some of the dogs, too, and the trees were sick,
bark peeling, barely able to stand up.
I wanted to tell them they needed help
but some kid would just punch me in the face.
Books, as I recall, brought escape,
opened up a world beyond culture shock,
a world without punches in the face,
a world where all rivers were safe,
where boundaries are easily traversed,
of Antartic adventures and flights into space,
where you could meet the living and the dead
on equal terms, all roads were possible,
and misunderstandings did not happen
or could be corrected with a second reading.
© 2005, Satya J. Gabriel