An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Self-Portrait at a Bend in the Road

Tarsus, Alabama

It takes a while to find the place
where I can hold the photograph
and the mountain will finish itself,

and a while until I'll let it drop

unafraid that the bus will be there
evaporating into flame,

the mob still shouting, still waiting

for the troopers and agents to clear
so they can finish the job,

or the Freedom Riders they've chased

from Anniston, still
smoked out and choking on the grass.

So much else is gone —

the grocery where the driver ran
"for help," the homes

where Mother's Day dinners cooled

while the locals watched the smoke
agitate the north Alabama sky,

and Janey Miller, the twelve year old

with a well bucket
and a dipper for anyone who coughed.

They taunted her, her neighbors,

the store owner and the riot,
even the bus driver safe within the fold,

but she carried on,

and they carried on,
even after the wreck was towed,

until the Millers packed and were gone.

But half of that, maybe more,
would be torn down to widen the road,

and that silence would be lost,

would be written over
leaving the road a by-way, a dead end

with a plaque where people

hold photographs to the air
so they can stand where the newsmen stood,

over that place where the Riders waited

in a circle of grace and disbelief,
fragile as the surface of a ladle

that hears each word.

Now the traffic's talking over
something else, I catch myself

on the car's hot windows,

distorted just enough
to be someone else — a cousin

or a local on the edge of the frame

ready to disappear
into the smoke or the heat or the trees.

The mountain's dark behind me.

My hand's on the latch,
the last warmth still there.

One of us is leaving.

One of us is already gone.

"Self-Portrait At A Bend in the Road" first appeared in The Northwest Review and will appear in Persons Unknown (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010, forthcoming).

Published: 15 April 2010
© 2010 Jake Adam York and Southern Spaces