I am three. Or four. Maybe even ten. I am sitting at the island in my grandparents’ kitchen as bacon cracks in the skillet and my grandmother is whisking eggs. Toast browns in the broiler. Some country song whines from the breadbox radio, then fades.
Paul Harvey comes on, brief news, then a longer story. Maybe a bank robber who stole an experimental car that ran on sewage so the cops just followed the smell. Maybe a young mother who lost her wedding ring while working at the Twinkie factory ten years back only to find it when her daughter bites hard into a snack-cake at her thirteenth birthday party, broken tooth and diamond ring. Page 2.
This reminds my grandmother, so she starts telling about the time she lost her ring in the trash and had every bag spread open on the driveway, stood knee-deep in the compost heap, looking for that little gleam when my grandfather idles up from work and hands over the ring he’d taken to the jewelers for a clean.
My grandfather walks in, bacon on the sizzle, toast crisping almost sweet, and says we didn’t have no compost heap, that happened back when we lived in town, before I started working the gas company route, and she says he doesn’t remember that he was already on the gas company route through Sylacauga, which is why he took the ring that day but didn’t tell her, and a train full of albino cattle decouples somewhere in Indiana and a small Mayberry reproduction town is nearly trampled by a pack of white. Page 3.
Remember that was the fall after we moved up here and I was helping my mother with the roses by her window. The only woman to live after being hit. Scratched the ring all up on thorn and root, found the small finger bones of a stillborn she’d buried there before I was born, had heard of but never. After being hit by a meteorite. And we didn’t tell her, pull the toast from the oven, so you took the ring from beside the sink but didn’t tell me. No you didn’t wear no ring in the rose-garden, it was after L— was born and you were putting bulbs in the yard of that little house on S— Road. Drives into Sylacauga today. And dropped it in some tulip wells, don’t burn the bacon, and I dug it out and took it for a clean and you stood on the road and yelled at me for pulling up the bulbs. To visit the pebble that dropped in from outerspace. Page 4.
Breakfast is served. Talk subsides. Some country song fades back in.
There is always a story. And a story. And a story. And a song. A disagreement about what happened and a disagreement about what happened. They rhyme with each other. They intertwine. One story prevents another, stalls another, music enters in, people stop to eat, to clarify, the story maybe never ends. But all these turns, turning against the story’s drive, direction, the maybes maybenots their own counterpoint their own story.
There is always a story. And another. Always a narrative in which music nests. Then the eggs are hatched and the birds spread in each direction. Or we are eating and there are birds in our mouth.
—Jake Adam York
Night kissed, tucked in,
he drifts in the crickets’ listen,
but the meteors burn
too fast to hear. Curtains
ghost, then fall to breath,
the river quoting wind.
Bats eclipse the float of stars,
say pine from oak,
chimney, furnace head,
twisting by bed-rhyme and prayer
to open water, tuned in
on mayflies and nymphs,
midges sly as the jazz
in every static. A wake
in the keels. Then quiet
as his parents’ lung,
as the channel deep
where every twitch is whispers
glittering in some far,
secret room of the dark,
the touch of music
he’s wished he could say he’d heard
somewhere long ago.
His sleep like arms enfolds
the boy, blue-hole blue
easy not to harm his sleep
while the other arms braced
for a moment that wouldn’t happen.
No father in the door.
Just a wall made of mumbling
and t.v. And then an attic room
so floored. If he didn’t hear them
flipping Jeopardy, Touched by An Angel,
he’d curl into the tick, but this
was not the usual shack with him
in the icehouse off the kitchen.
I had seen it weeks before
when the one was trying
to fish his son from the river
at Stockholm Bend, while the other
broke his chain gang
for a vise and a map of Florida.
He could smell me in the attic
but told himself he had
someone else in mind. When
are they going to do something?
Watch his arms like water
enfold me. He holds a king
and two jacks, one he calls a knave.
He draws his house
then passes me a beer.
I know blue-hole blue cut open
would shine like clay, but the boy
bleeds like a thermometer
I can drink against my pocket’s weathers.
So I said not the usual shack.
In the icehouse off the kitchen
I can’t hear any of this.
Just a game show and the embrace
of beer cans on knees. Why
do they wait? Are they waiting? I told him
I was grabbing catfish, my arm
through a hole in my rotten boat
when I saw the camphouse and knew
my daddy wouldn’t take me.
So I drowned. That boy
never did listen. Listen. I drowned
him then hid in the attic
to wait for you. I smelled myself
but had someone else in mind.
I was on the bank poling for my drowned.
I was watching through the murk.
When I reached through the window,
I was in the next room waiting
for someone to do it. I agreed
to bury the coins by the stump
and was later asked to dig them up.
The others waited in the fringe,
arms itching with empty.
When I went over the bluff
I was waiting in the cove
with a six-pack and
a jar of silver dollars. The boat
was made from a Florida map
and for oars we used a criminal
and my dad’s remote control.
What You Wish For
Wind is the only braid for miles.
Then you descend to the river.
Mud and catfish stench twine in your hair,
the only waves. No nightjar
or solitary oar, but you imagine
a kid, laid deep in a thicket
guitaring to the stars and his lonely girl,
an open window miles away.
A wisp of melody, a radio
wide awake in an empty house.
Something you always wanted her
to hear. Maybe the hum of the body
under her hands, just rising from the water,
someone to whisper in your ear
before sunrise, like this voice you imagine
from faint notes of wind. Sources
say a tooth, silver and quicksilver filled,
can unfold radio, the skull
like a guitar’s face amplifies vibration
into your backseat darling. So perhaps
this girl, missing now since Tuesday,
or the girl in mind, perhaps this voice
is nothing you imagine, but a drift,
a weather grown audible
in the charge of your jaw. A report,
an echo. A fisherman working,
every grapple down, beneath the bridge
raised the body of , an echo,
this poor half-amputated girl, her arms,
tongue cut from her throat
raised from the waveless stream,
whose voice is lost in the forest
on the snag of a sweetgum tree.
You imagine the kid, awaiting
this hung reply, a wail gone out walking
after midnight, searching for you.
It walks for miles, along the highway,
but that’s just her way of saying
I Love You. The news is gone. The notes
thrill, a pulse in solid bone.
Or you imagine none of this
and no station you can raise
plays this tune. But you hope
you don’t know this any other way.
You search the car for a strip of foil,
chewing gum or cigarette tin,
and grind it down between your teeth
and your prayer for a spark
and the acrid pain to fill your mouth,
to make these voices all go away.
The water scars, blade
the rotors’ pulse
When it dies
I can break
from the silt’s thick hands
a scent for hounds
and rise without fear
from the clench of rock
don’t work that way,
holds its tributes
speaking like the drowned.
When the surface
the chain iron’s
I kick from the mud
rope and chain
break the water’s skin,
and his boys
things the water’s
The map of heaven fades
beneath the levee,
its stars swallowed
in the slag’s obsidian coils,
moccasin and magnolia
till all eyes cinder,
its sulphurous whispers drown.
stoked by the furnace
and the gas-plant’s flame,
and the last coals
twinkle through the heaps
to the river’s scroll.
When midnight breaks the levee
the map is gone
and every fall’s
a crest catching moon,
a second’s etch from dark to dark
that ends in iron.
Then the channel whites,
a meteor’s burn
withering to the snake
that haunts the pumice shoals,
striking every eddy dead
till it mounts the slag,
its head arrowing through
the stranger’s smoldering wings,
its length, a mantle
on his shoulders,
black and scabbed with stars,
risen for this last tattoo.
Every pavement breathes
through streetlights’ and stars’
every wind, coal burned to
light (watt, watt), to
keep the city’s mansions white.
Now the only cool veins the ridge.
breathes from every light,
from all the valley’s darks,
the ore they purify and hearth,
a furnace working up.
The city’s finest blooms tuyere their
through cast iron bars and
fences, exhaust every arbor,
each street and shadow,
each sleep. We toss in every
and flux under frantic stars whose
we breathe and wake to eye the
mansions bright as lightning.
falls like stars, twinkling
twinkling down like iron, cauled in
waves through every thing.
When moonlight slips like whispers
through the slats and the oaks
hold all the wind they can, she hears
small feet coughing on the downstairs floor,
small lungs unchoking, almost laughter.
But it’s just the creek fluting bones downstream,
just oaks muffling moonlight and wind
as they try to split in twos, or just crows
folding like sin-eaters in the eaves
and coughing just a little
as they choke this down.
Moonlight its hue. Its hue
like water on rocks. Like bone
on bone. Like bone,
like moonlight stilled.
Like moonlight on water,
fold, unfold. Like moonlight
rise. Like water on skin,
starlight on clouds, breath
of wind. Like a moon
above the stream. Whisper
its tide, its hue. Its hue.