Self-Portrait at a Bend in the Road
It takes a while to find the place
where I can hold the photograph
and the mountain will finish itself,
and a while until I'll let it drop
unafraid that the bus will be there
evaporating into flame,
the mob still shouting, still waiting
for the troopers and agents to clear
so they can finish the job,
or the Freedom Riders they've chased
from Anniston, still
smoked out and choking on the grass.
So much else is gone —
the grocery where the driver ran
"for help," the homes
where Mother's Day dinners cooled
while the locals watched the smoke
agitate the north Alabama sky,
and Janey Miller, the twelve year old
with a well bucket
and a dipper for anyone who coughed.
They taunted her, her neighbors,
the store owner and the riot,
even the bus driver safe within the fold,
but she carried on,
and they carried on,
even after the wreck was towed,
until the Millers packed and were gone.
But half of that, maybe more,
would be torn down to widen the road,
and that silence would be lost,
would be written over
leaving the road a by-way, a dead end
with a plaque where people
hold photographs to the air
so they can stand where the newsmen stood,
over that place where the Riders waited
in a circle of grace and disbelief,
fragile as the surface of a ladle
that hears each word.
Now the traffic's talking over
something else, I catch myself
on the car's hot windows,
distorted just enough
to be someone else — a cousin
or a local on the edge of the frame
ready to disappear
into the smoke or the heat or the trees.
The mountain's dark behind me.
My hand's on the latch,
the last warmth still there.
One of us is leaving.
One of us is already gone.
"Self-Portrait At A Bend in the Road" first appeared in The Northwest Review and will appear in Persons Unknown (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010, forthcoming).
Published: 15 April 2010
© 2010 Jake Adam York and Southern Spaces