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Clay Matthews

 


Appalachian Love Song

 

I rise and look out the window.
The sun comes round the corner and the frost slips out the back door.
We spend time in bed, staring at the woman's growing belly.
Easter and a lily blooms. The peach begins as a flower.
I open the door and let a wasp free.

~

Cheep beer cans and the geese cross the road in single-file.
Across the street they're cutting off the catalytic converters.
Things get loud around here. Things hush.
On a back road a man walks out of his trailer and fires off
twenty round with his twenty-two, blaring away at nothing.

~

The mockingbirds dance down a line in the grass, marking territories.
The children look both ways before they cross.
The lawnmower throws grass all over.
Across the street they light a fire, tear an old building down and let it burn.
Oh Lord, the mountaintop. The dog, the rhododendron, and me.
Daffodils come and go at the graveyard. The little playhouse across the way.
Tulips come up, there is a place we go when we die.
Birds sing, anyway.

~

I go to the junkyard and search through old cars blocked up on wheel wells.
I watched this movie about drag racing, and it kind of broke my heart.
I open a motor and call out my name. I stare into the great abyss and pour oil.
Gasoline on the forearm, could you do an evil thing?
They let the motors out, the mufflers roar.
The back roads hold on to us like mothers.

~

The peach begins as a peach. The buds burst all over.
Nobody moans. We get up, we go to bed. We eat dinner and we brush our teeth.
We say our little prayers and on the counter, the fruit rots.
The woman is off somewhere in the world, with a child inside, with a five-speed.
She kicks at night. She kicks in the morning. Sometimes Jan reaches
her hand out to me. Sometimes I take it.

~

Right now I am losing a friend somewhere to his first hit of crank
for the morning. Somewhere methamphetamine. The neighbor Melvin,
an Army vet, a diabetic, a sweet man, wraps his legs each morning
to keep the fluid from building up. He gathers trash off the road and fills
his Cadillac with recyclables. Tin-foil is perhaps the most versatile substance
ever created. I.e. the montage of duct-tape, i.e. the story of my life.

~

Some people go to the mountain and never come back.
Moonshine stills and hard-won copper. How does your portfolio look these days?
How do we get back home?
There is a life inside her. There is cold beer and hot pizza.
The windows are open at the stoplight, the rap music blends with gospel.
We've all learned the words. We all sing.

~

Monday and the garbage trucks.
Sunday and the flea market, Cuban coffee, and Lord, don't the puppies look sweet.
Someone once asked me if I had found peace.
Someone once asked me if I was angry.
Sometimes I open the lid to the garbage and stare in a long, long time.
What to see there? Hello?
Comes more gravel in the parking lot. Comes the weed killer, comes the rain.
You dip the biscuit in the gravy, you dip the biscuit in the gravy,
everything, everything is going to be alright.

~

I am long this morning. I am my wife, our daughter on the way.
I am spring and the leaking water main down the road.
I am only temporary.
They're putting things out in the fields now. Comes the plow, comes the till.
What places of America do you believe in?
They paint the white strips on. They pile more asphalt on the side of the road.
And what you carrying there, boy? You got yoself sho' bent over double.
Shadows from the maple tree pass across the house. I put a basketball
inside my shirt to mimic the woman.
Some days it takes a long time before I can make a free throw.

~

All these questions, and occasionally I just have to pick up
out of a conversation and leave.
A dead coyote on the side of the road. Sit down, brother,
said the Trickster, I've a story to tell.
At the grocery store someone hums a hymnal. At the grocery store
someone geetar solo all over the baking goods aisle.
I read an article about men in the Midwest who have this fetish
for high-heeled shoes on gas pedals. The Trickster said
he could take his penis off and send it swimming across the river.
At the basketball courts they sneak off to smoke a joint.
They sneak off to love on each other's parts.

~

Purple clover at the edge of the asphalt, and the old man
at the auto parts store has got a haircut, he looks like a boy again.
The dogs in their kennels watch the crows go by and strut.
They bark like mad, the train whistle blows and they howl back.
The satellite dishes, the chimneys, the shingle roofs, the metal roofs.
The rain comes down and I hear an a/c kick on somewhere.
A diesel idles down the road. A woman sits on her porch with her bible in prayer.
Comes the gnats, comes the lovers making love over a dead and fallen tree
in the woods. Sometimes it's enough just to hold a thing.

~

Bluegrass Thursday nights at the community grocery. Hot plate dinners.
I am happy here, sometimes. They put gasoline in them motors.
They hang them mufflers with the chicken wire. We'll fix ya' right up,
we'll tell you straight. What is that balm in Gilead? What about this
sin-sick soul? I look away and let the dog chase the pussy cats up the tree.

~

Hollowed out shotgun duplexes and Swisher Sweet butts on the ground.
This here is one hell of a dappled thing, the world, the song, East TN,
I represent Appalachia, we are more than beans and cornbread,
we are more than quilts and sweet tea. Back streets and bass beats.
Who never learned to drive a stick shift, who never learned to say sir?
We make the small talk. We make the babies. We grow old and we never stop
wishing. Life is hard. We are afraid.
See all of us waiting now for someone to return in the handicapped spaces.
See us with the Wal-Mart bag over just done hair.
See our dogs on top of each other, leashed in the backyard.
Hear our roosters. Hear our muscle cars.
Feed them chickens and feed the neighborhood potluck. We ain't wrong,
we're just different. When the mayfly falls out, the deep trout comes up.
When there is joy, we sing. When there is sadness, we do some weeping, too.

~

The brakes squeak. The stop light turns slowly.
The world changes when an officer of the law is around.
The fenders rust out. The birds sit on the wire.
The kudzu begins its return to take it down.
Knotweed and starling and clover. Over and over.
Soiled panties on the ground in the middle of nowhere.
Broken bottles and busted-up washing machines.
They fly the flag here: Proud to be a redneck.
They throw coins in the fountains at the mall.
The carpet is old and weary.

~

Play something country.
Change the record. Spin that stuff with the funky beat.
They're burning the census questionnaires around here.
They're refusing to answer yes or no.
The young people slip down now into straps and small bits of clothing.
The old people just wear the same thing.
And what is a self? Who am I, who came from the delta
to the mountains, who am I with a new wife, a new home, a babe on the way?
I speak now for a place in which I never began. I speak
as if I had a right. All over the old trucks, confederate flags, quilts
painted on barns, the Bristol Motor Speedway, the Piedmont Ave. lights,
where one state ends and another begins.
They take me in a like a son here. They feed us tomatoes and brownie mix.
They bring clothes for the child to come. They bless our hearts,
they look out at the mountains and, like me, feel endlessly small.
All of our lives punctuated by church bells and train whistles.
All of our lives, with white bread and bad-running mowers.
They take the boquets of plastic flowers from the Dollar General to the graveyard,
and when the storm blows them over we stand them back up.
They keep putting just the right amount of sauce on my bbq sandwhich.
God bless them they keep filling up my sweet tea.

~

Everything is quiet and then a phone rings.
I hear two people going at it. I hear two birds singing back and forth.
The robin takes the worm, the crow keeps cawing.
Cheap blinds and privacy fences. I have this vision of a beautiful back yard.
You put the weedeater to the grass and the world becomes a different place.
Property lines and marker flags. None of us are so very different.
I hear a woman ask another if she has everything she needs.
I hear a man saying I ain't lying, Cheryl, what I'm telling you is the God's honest truth.

~

There is something perfect in the rhythm of things. There is something
perfect in this place. Next door, I go out every morning and watch
a turtle dove that has nested in the neighbor's window sill.
The gas grills cook up something nice. The wood bees buzz around the house.
Someone told me recently that I'd picked a good place to raise a child.
The water runs down the mountain. The streams head on to the sea.
A truck pulls away, and I can hear noise over at the town's small grain elevator.
I can hear the seeds scattering down all over the place.

 

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