Too much of me is now in every place
– George Scarbrough
Consider the shoreline:
its juts, outcroppings, rock, shell and sand
grappling for real estate. Gulls wheeling
like kites. Little urchin grasses among the dunes.
Geography (geo-graphein): write the earth
—or rather, scribe as though with a line
the shape of land, its wandering
meetings with the sea,
what the two must talk of:
Did you see that storm? What a goddamn show.
From space the earth is a perfect circle.
nothing. And topography
(topos-graphein): write the place. Rather,
scribe as though with a line
their angry dips and peaks, apogee
or canyon here, anabatic winds
dusting the slopes. From space
the earth is a perfect sphere. Topography means
nothing. A mountain range may as well be gooseflesh,
and the man standing on the peaks—
he’s breathing oxygen from a mask.
When we woke,
the sun wasn’t. Blue grass, blue shoes,
gravel driveway of course
blue; the sky more purple,
still drinking last night’s ink.
Draught was on the weatherman’s lips
but I saw dew like diamonds on the grass
that morning, and I thought the world
could all drink here if they’d bend low.
Taillights hummed dull red
in the saccharine air. We bit gravel,
scribing our path
as though with a line
and rolled onto pavement,
heavy with those items
our lives deemed requisite for travel.
My compass spun
to the S. I slept. The cloudwork chased us south.
Northwood High School in Saltville, southwest Virginia stands where the Chisca village Maniatique was razed to the ground in 1567 in the spirit of Spanish entrepreneurship. The town is known for its wooly mammoth remains, which are well-preserved by the nearby salt marshes.
512 miles from Louisville, Mississippi.
A bridge, monolithic
edges out from the hillrise ahead.
Everything around it seems grayer,
dismissed. There are 162
such bridges between Lynchburg, Virginia
and Louisville. In this bridge’s shadow,
graffiti and gravel
are the apex predators, occupying
the third and fourth trophic levels.
Most other forms were driven out,
scribbled through as though with a line.
Here, highways rust in the sun,
and clay dust struggles to rise
where even the grass cannot find purchase.
Yellows and reds
somehow overwhelm green.
A man rises from the Tennessee haze,
sun-baked like a brick
and of the same texture.
The highway hillrise
stretches, yawns out
behind his form.
He carries a staff,
right hand gesturing
what I imagine to mean peace,
gods’ love, thy-will-be-done,
and mere handfuls of dirt.
He paces forward
as if another
lifted his heels each step.
A snapping turtle shell
and bronze pot hang from his belt.
A python is tattooed down his leg.
He hums the paean
under his breath;
eyes not crazed, but on the brink
of whatever precedes
madness. The Far-shooter’s sunstroke
arrow brought him down like fowl
years ago. Even now,
he wears the fletching
on his chest.
As we pass,
state lines melt.
We caught our breath at Chattanooga. The lazy Tennessee shrugged.
The pines near Louisville advance
in ranks and files
with Roman obedience.
These trees were once savage,
cousins of Teutoburg old-growth
half a world away. This acreage
in Mississippi was cut to the dirt,
harvested like wheat, and replanted
in the western tradition.
The new pines
are domesticated. Tamed.
Of the form men find most pleasing.
They will be reaped again.
Oxford, Mississippi was named in hopes of drawing the attention of the soon-to-be state university, and was rewarded for this decision. Carthage, of Leake County, was settled by displaced Phoenician oligarchs who fled Tunisia after the Battle of Zama.
As a child, the world
requires more. The high-dive platform
out in the deep of lake Tiak O’khata
was, for all our sapling energy,
an island nation
and impossibly far from shore.
The day we managed to swim it
my cousin and I collapsed,
on the severed dock’s rough planks,
and savored the small triumph
of the moment
while the island’s indigenous folk,
older and stronger in arms,
surveyed the flopped fish-boys
We didn’t care. Soon
we would fly.
When the water wilted
our fingertips, when the sand
charred our soles,
we left the beach for the red
behind the A-frames.
There was a wall
of weathered clay that we took
to be our own. We called it so
after scratching lines (litho-graphein)
of our names and heroics
into the vertical earth: Sing, muse, of…
The wall had its indentations,
natural climbing holds
that slipped our toes and heels,
and though each year our names washed clean,
we renewed our lease
of clay each July,
calling our child-cries to the sun.
O Mississippi maenad tongue,
wring music in me.
Already you have begun,
goddess of song—
speak for me the descent.
And when memory has hung
about like dust,
scribe portals through it.
Aid my path through dust.
I never saw my grandmother’s
mother. Her parents lived up the street
from Mark Twain, though I suppose
they called him Sam.
Her name was Edna.
Her face launched
a thousand suitors
and dashed them all on the rocks.
It was a farm-raised boy
from the Great Delta
who charmed her into marriage
two weeks after they met in Florida.
They say Chester was never good
at much anything
other than charming women.
He was born in Ilium
and wore pennies on his eyelids
before Edna, who died
after Reagan was elected.
Eleven children were their issue. At the end
of the day, a farm needs more hands
and fewer mouths.
Edna saw 747s meet the gods
in their high thunderhead homes, saw men
build their wings with more than wax
and plumage. The sun never
struck them down like children
talking back before dinner,
like a figurine
in the air
with arms stretched west to east
and feet pointed at noon.
I am the salt
and the red clay
that gave the Sun respite
from his duties, a place to store the chariot
he scored across the sky like a firebrand.
As though by a line
his travel could be traced, recorded.
His is the highest position. It is June.
It’s June and the cotton hasn’t begun
to show. I didn’t think the sun
could ever beat
like now. Little Raymond collapsed
from the heat
into fever, and then wouldn’t wake.
Mama tried everything,
and for our sake,
told us he’d be sound as the ring
of a bell by supper.
He wasn’t born strong, I heard
a stranger say after
dark. I said a few words
over and over in my head
until I fell to sleep.
I dreamed all in red
and a man with a laurel wreath
was pushing a bateau
with a pole from shore
to shore while crows
circled and roared.
There was a crowd
that stood like ghosts.
They wore shrouds.
They were blue as frost.
I woke with the savage sun
through the window,
and heard my sister run
up the low
steps to my room. He’s gone,
she said. Come quick. He’s gone.
Back porch, near dusk,
and the cicadas are screaming
like a riot.
The bull bays bloomed
a month ago. Late this year.
I heard the story
and gave thanks.
It was written down
in scribbled English
somewhere, and then transcribed,
in Courier. What we know
is this: in 1850
Edna’s grandparents went west,
settling in Nebraska.
Justus managed a post station
for the Pony Express.
They met danger in Hyperborean wilds,
and feared for their children.
When Justus left for supplies,
Nancey hid in the attic
and shushed her newborn son
while Sioux braves
careened drunk through the cabin.
The next morning, she was on the train east.
I’m taking my children with me.
Tomorrow, we’ll drink the sun
and be gone.
The storm crept in, announced
by skirmishing dark clouds
that never collated,
only drank heat from the air.
I never saw a storm
when I was farther south,
in Mississippi or elsewhere.
I have seen hundreds
in Virginia, watched arcing
skeletal arms snap their way
down the sky
while God threw chairs at the wall.
I have seen the lake’s pines
bend like a bow strung.
I envied them their elasticity,
to let the rain-waves whip
and ravage their branches around
and know that nothing
of this storm—any storm—
could break them.
All the knots in the porch’s pine
posts watch the rain sluice
off the gutters above, opaque pane
of water-glass, a lens
for wooden eyes.
I look through too. The world
is rippled, pallid, rattled.
I wouldn’t believe any of it.
I lift my hand to the sheet
and trace my finger through,
as though by scribing a line
(hydro-graphein) the world would be made
—drowned, no more.
Matthew MacFarland attends Hampden-Sydney College in rural southside Virginia, where he also serves as an assistant editor of the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review.