Tender Is the Night

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Tender Is the Night

The fall corn fields always
had the crisp moon for their heavy

ears and dry stalks to under
hang, and bright tobacco—topped

and suckered—had the humid sun
to pull the tar from its

green leaves. But overalled boys
in South Georgia held title

to nothing but kerosene to fill
their dogtrots with light

in the 1940s, until trucks
and men made good on Roosevelt’s

REA and hauled in the long
creosote poles, day after day,

dug holes, and hoisted the wires
and crosses like Good Friday

soldiers clear-cutting
right-of-ways to sunrise service

on Easter morn. Then the after-
noon bus rides filled

with bets about whose house
was next, until it was yours,

and the porch light glowed with power,
and night could not come

fast enough, and you stood bare-
foot in the hard, dark yard

with toads and chickens, watching
your new life pour from

windows and clapboard chinks,
thinking, Somewhere inside

I will always be
the person I am tonight.

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The Sum of All Things

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The Sum of All Things

In 1934, Roosevelt put an end
to farm foreclosures. Federal agents
killed Bonnie, Clyde, Dillinger,

and Pretty Boy Floyd. In May,
a Black Blizzard blew most of Texas,
Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas,

grain by grain, into the Atlantic.
Hitler became Führer of the masses, and
two broken-hearted Lindberghs

still fled from the press. My dad,
who turned six that year,
started first grade and reveled

in the smell of gas exhaust
on the bus ride to town, even though
country kids were packed like pigs

on the long facing pews, their backs
braced against the world by simple
planks and canvas to keep

the rain out. Young and poor
and full of grits, it’s hard to know
how much hell can break loose,

or even if it matters much. But
every lanterned night he learned
the trade of sums on borrowed

paper, seeing how one thing
adds to another to make something
new. In the end, math

got the best of him: the relent-
less Winstons, the crazy
wife with all her curtains tagged

and packed, the miles and miles
of oxygen tube, the liquid
that builds, gram by gram, round

a struggling heart and finally
stops it cold as a pine knot.

Cracker

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Cracker

A Cracker is as a Cracker does. The son of a country mailman the son of a failed farmer the son of a lost clod who died from yellow fever and disappeared, not even a note to note the place they stuck his grave in the ground. And the Cracker’s mama? Orphaned by a stroke of bad luck and alcohol, the daughter of sharecroppers the daughter of cotton the daughter of cornmeal, dirt, and squirrels for dinner. Sleeping with a gun between her legs. Cause better a gun than a father or brother’s dank, bowed cock. And Cracker is as Cracker does in Southwest Georgia. SoWeGa. Soo WEEEEE GA! A man can call some hogs with that. To the slop, to the trough, to the blow-down, bow, crook, cup, and twist of a barn. Can you even imagine the barn? Or the mud? Imagine. And the corn scooped from the feedsack makes a beautiful yellow arc in the air, gleams—and it does—every day in the thunder-building air, before it pellets the same hoof-trodden ground. But hogs will root it out. Cause a hog is a hog is a hog and a hog does as a hog is. And a Cracker’s son in the ’70s drives his daddy’s blue F-100 at the speed of sound. Down dirt roads and paved roads and ditches and cross the wooden bridges. And Freebird IS his speed and sound. With a Salem Light between his fingers and a beer can between his legs, he tugs his Dekalb hat into place—such winged Mercury of seed—and punches stations into the radio’s face, singing he’ll be leaving here tomorrow, girl, cause he’s got too many places to go and so much more to know. Swearing he don’t need nobody to remember him or his name, thank you just the same. That, or he’ll be good and damned.