The dismal swamp, a few miles north of home

Gary Lilley

you ain't gotta go back to where you once were,
that's what my aunt marcella said when she gave me
the keys to her white 87 oldsmobile cutlass supreme
with no reverse. i was gonna have to drive to dc
from sandy cross, along the edge of the dismal
where I used to go when I was seventeen
to get away from the shattering of the house.
marcella's brother, the man who married my mother
beating her. i would pull off the narrow road
bordering the swamp, up to the muck and water,
into the natural silences caught
in the twisted roots of the cypress

to smoke and plan the burning of the man.
the scattering of his ashes along the same highways
he pushed his rig down every week, to give
him a flaming diesel freedom. friday nights,
his truck engine ticking, cooling in the yard
as he sits in the house with a fifth of scotch
until he's drunk enough to shoot his shotgun
at the stars. etta james' "tell mama," a secret
road memory resonating on the stereo, he'd start
busting windows and kicking ass all the way
to the church door. a sunday deacon. my mother
wearing caked make-up and big shades as he prays
for someone to make everything alright.

 

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