Letter to the South

by Daniel DeVaughn

I was a boy palming the furrows
of your face, spread out beneath a static overcast.
Your hot breath bloomed for miles, like cotton,
and if we spoke in tongues, you never noticed,
content in the grip of history, washed clean
in blood and the silk of darkened whisperings.
You caught me in the corners of pupils, bound
in the faces of grandma’s goats. They would test
their fresh horns on the old Toyota’s radiator grill
while grandpa smoked so deep the sun seemed
to flame out to ember. Cicadas sang up the lean
pine trees and the stars eyed your earth,
for they were younger. In summertime, the backyard
would flood, and we would walk in the water
amazing our sisters huddled for fear of acts
of God or some less-than-holy specter floating
across to greet them. Cops stopped only
for the blacks living de facto in the Forties.
You wonder how you got this bad rap,
sometimes so cold, like wind through a ribcage,
like the spirit come to fill us nights my mother’s
father taught us from the prophets. He believed
beneath the mantle of the raised hand, plastic
sacrament of grape juice cups. His blood is in me too,
but what of mine is you? I imagine your frosts free
of the flame of church marquees, Saturday meetings
of the congregation men, where we’d eat grease-
choked breakfasts and break into country hymns.
I slept through it all and revenant-wise crossed
the parking lot under my father. It is like I look
through walls of water now. Shrouded in wool,
patrolling our rivers, picking fish-bones
from the clay-banks, you sprinkle them back
to the acetate black of night. We clothed you,
but you howled in your wildness—a steaming,
hairless kid, scanning brambles or stars for your kin.
When the freezing rains cease, again, I will
have forgotten the shape of your face. Let us
meet beyond the curve of the dry river-road,
where the oak spread over beds of burnt bermuda.


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