An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Failed Memory Exercise

The water tank above the trees, and then the town,
Lord God, the sudden, blunt, exhilarating shock
Of pavement against the chert of the bottom road,

Bare schoolyard, white clinic, a block of stores
Like a test for names, beginning with the P.O.,
By which, in late autumn, the loaded wagons came,

The colts wheeling behind the great sober mares,
And turned east, clattering toward the cotton gin,
And returned empty, and faded beyond the track.

Beyond those yards, where one day the sallow
Dozers rolled and skinned back the flowerbeds
For the pumps and grease rack of the new Shell;

But begin again, for the dark green Lincoln rises
To its lube and crests where Zetty's kitchen was:
The black gush withers and dribbles to a drip,

And memory gums like shavings in the burnt oil
Now that plywood masks the windows of the stores,
Which test me as I bump awake over the Atlantic

Or wait in the plant-hung lobby of a hotel
In Atlanta or Montreal and answer then, though
I do not know the nature of the questions, true

Or false, fill-in-the-blanks south from the P.O.:
Three grocers, Leona Patterson's Fabric Box,
The shuttered bank, the poolhall din and smoke,

And this would have been a Saturday, Sabrina
Playing at the Cameo, the farmers scooping
Sweetfeed and calf manna from the silvery bins

Of H.R. Summerford and Sons, General Merchandise,
But stop now, for I see the man without a nose
Like a pencil point ground to a nub and breaking

There against the efflorescence of the barbershop,
And stare again into that hole beneath the eyes
Where I must have thought I'd spy the brain itself

Before my gaze dropped to seize on missing tiles,
A blond curl, a plate engraved ACME MFG., INC —
Those things that wore away and primed a vacancy.

But he sat there while my distant cousin shined his shoes,
And then he simply walked across Main to the depot,
A place I can't forget, since its beams were ripped out,

Numbered, and shipped east to some resurrection bistro
Where one can cop a decent blintz and expresso now
That the trains don’t stop and no one's keeping store.

 

Published in Salvation Blues: One Hundred Poems, 1985-2005 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 34-35.

Published: 22 January 2009
© 2009 Rodney Jones and Southern Spaces