The Fraternity of Singing Men

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The Fraternity of Singing Men

It’s 1980 and August and hot and my back is nearly broke cause Big Rick got drunk with the rest of us camping in the cow pasture behind my house the weekend before college and we “pretend” wrestle and he power drives me into the ground from above his head and then I sleep on the hood of my car. And now my dad and uncle drive me 5 hours north—my back braced and chiropractored just enough—through Camilla, Albany, Cordele, Vienna, Unadilla, Perry, Macon, Gray, Eatonton, Madison, and Watkinsville to UGA in Athens. And the whole damn way the Bonneville rides at deep-load displacement, filled to the brim with all the records, speakers, turn tables, tuners, amps, and dunnage of my teen life, cruising at the speed of a tractor pulling a transplanter in a tobacco field. And the whole damn way we drag the plug of my new black-and-white TV, locked out the back door and scraped off down to bare dangling wires on 250 miles of shimmering Georgia blacktop. Oh well. But they help with the carrying and stairs and boxes till I’m left in a room like a chicken coop and do the only thing there is to do—assemble the stereo and blast (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) like a mating song till Gimme Three Steps draws a bunch of rednecks to my place and we talk and dip and sing and smoke—cause God meant us to smoke wherever the hell we want, even inside—and smoke fills the dorm room and clings to our jeans and marks us all with ash the same so we remember the places from where we came, the barns and pines and gnat-swarmed, corn-growing dirt we leave without regret or escape.

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Analog

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Analog

Most things come to the country
late, like
microwaves, dishwashers,

and cordless phones. For years,
I sat
tethered to the BellSouth

kitchen wall mount, its cork-
screw cord
pinched through the dining

room door so I could talk
private
to my girl, who lived way

on the other side of town,
her home
planted in the middle

of rolling pastures and corn,
streams and
woods, where we could park

and strip down to skin, nothing
but skin
between us and the rest

of the wild, changing world,
our every
motion analog

to the theoretically
infinite
coupling of stars.

Old Georgia Bottleneck Blues

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Old Georgia Bottleneck Blues
for Cecil Barfield

Cecil Barfield makes them high neck
               bottle-slide
notes sting
               like gotta-be God

               damned yellow flies bitin’
every inch of skin—
                                   by the pond,
under shade, in the field,

all through the inscrutable
                       South Georgia
heat. Moan and wail, wrench
               and squeeze,

Cecil, I thought I told you
               not to did that, I thought
I told you
               not to did that.


But Thank God you did
               did that, Cecil, in ’78,
for some Atlanta man
               on the front porch

                       of yo’ blues-electrified
shack, no running water,
                       and so afraid
of the tax man,

you called yourself
               William Robertson
on the record. Hell, Cecil,
                                   you played

a one-stringed oil can
               as a boy, nailed a string
to a house and played
                       a house—

You played a got-damned house,
               Cecil! And said,
What I do,
               it satisfy me
. And it satisfy

me too, Cecil. You my root
                       doctor,
               my hook in the cold
creek water, my vintage Universal

Laidlaw Flyswatter. You
                       my wind-up
               Victor, Cecil, even though
you done

closed up your life
                       like a suitcase
and moved on, far on,
               from these here parts.

Fusarium Oxysporum

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Fusarium Oxysporum

fungal pathogen producing wilt, chlorosis, necrosis,
leaf drop, browning, stunting, and damping-off


Our fence-line rookery of Mimosas
is gone. One
leans against the house,

propped by an overgrown Holly.
Another fell
in on itself, but still

stands by the sandbox, its
two largest
limbs rubbing out a woeful

wind-blown bark like a
lonely seal
pining for a mate.

I miss these shady migrant
trees, their
fernlike leaves, ambitious limbs,

hardworking seeds and pods.
And blooms—
what a summer explosion

of Chinese chrysanthemum
white and pink!
No matter they hitchhiked

in with botanist André Michaux
to Charleston
in 1785, then spread

to every backyard nook
and roadside
cranny of the South.

Don’t malign this copious
tree with noms
de plume
like invasive species,

noxious weed, or alien
exotic plant
because the Cardinal

rule of being Southern
is you
got folks who, or you

yourself, live—
or once
lived—there.

Talk to the Doves

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Talk to the Doves

When I was five, I could talk to birds—me
cradled in Aunt Midder’s big-bosomed
lap on the porch swing
after dinner, her

smelling sweet like fresh peas, corn,
and Avon perfume. In our summer ritual,
she swung me to sleep
through fading heat

while daylilies and zinias grew dark in the yard.
Across the paved road, mourning doves
called from the deep green
of longleaf pine.

Meek, dreamless Columbidae fixed on a limb,
feet slim as nails driven into wood, black eyes—
unblinking—haloed in blue,
pillowed breasts

a feathered complexion of gray and rouge. And
the call—a low lament of coo-ah followed
by three long coos
which sounded

like the word who to our nested human clutch
in the swing. A concert note so pure
and clear even my bones
took up the tune—
the hammer,

anvil, and stirrup of my self pitched and resonant
with such rhymed codas heard near sleep.
When the birds’ song met us
in contingencies

of air, my aunt said, Talk to the doves,
sweetie, talk to the doves. And I answered Who,
Who, Who—no mock question
or repetition of doubt,

but my best greeting and nightly goodbye given
in a language I had just begun to learn,
my own voice soft and full
of the first flights of sleep.