Issue 3:2 | Poetry | Sebastion Matthews
previously published in Rivdendell 4: Native Genius, 2007 www.rivendelljournal.org, & in We Generous (Red Hen Press).
What I know of this place
doesn’t go far
beyond what you see here—
rainy mountains, blue
wrapped in mist—
and even that you could say
I don’t know, not as if
I’d grown up here:
a rhododendron rooted
in this red earth:
moonshine stories and blue-
grass. I’ve grown up
in mountains like this,
sure, and walked days
on end in just such
a mist, if that counts
for anything, so what
I can tell you must come
bluegrass but high-bush
but other nourishment:
and strong diner coffee.
The kind of food you get
when you’re going
from there to there,
and here is just a truck stop
& all music a song
on the jukebox. Otis Redding.
Allman Brothers’ “Melissa,”
church-soul from the Rev. Al Green.
That’s what I can tell you
about this place—it ain’t Seattle,
ain’t no seacoast town
with indigo roofs
and lobster boats
for tourist eyes.
& the music
I know is of this place
because I play it on my stereo.
Old Dylan records
with Appalachian ballads
poking through their clothes
like ragged undershirts. Jazz
is my bluegrass. Coltrane
my moonshine. If I went
to church, I’d go to his,
maybe camp out
on the blue notes of sidewalk,
let the wind scatter
my prayers into the tornado-
yellow sky. That’s where
you’d find me. & I guess
you can call that home.
Easter Sunday in the Catawba View Missionary Baptist Church,
Old Fort, North Carolina
Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them
while they were walking in the country.
The pastor turns to the end of Mark,
the Old Testament’s long withheld promise
of resurrection, and sets his glasses
high up on his now sweating face,
Jaron leaning out of his 12-year-old huddle
to whisper, “Here comes the long part.”
He’s been highlighting the service, entry
by entry, with a yellow marker, a prisoner
marking time. I am a guest here, awkward
in my Sunday best, unpressed, my pagan
green tucked neatly away. Outside, morning
fog rests lightly on the front steps,
a silent knock on the door. The semis pour
down the mountain in a stink of rubbed brakes.
We’ve had three songs from the choir,
small for this small church, a block
of half-hearted testifying; only Miss Fanny,
the congregation’s elder, able to stir
the place with the witness of her faith.
Even that I suspect is not new—not like
fresh rain after months of draught.
I’ve put five dollars (borrowed)
into the basket. The place is close
to full: young families trickling in,
their children an excited murmur.
A little boy’s been waving to me half
an hour, smiling back at the surprise
of my white face. The pastor has already
taken Jaron aside to tease him
for being twelve and looking pretty
in newly done-up cornrows; the old women
already pressed their leathery dry palms
into mine, fulfilling a church duty
as old as the rituals we’ve been enacting
with more or less enthusiasm.
Which is exactly what the pastor’s been
getting at, his diction positively MLK,
his streetwise I-Have-Been-Redeemed persona
honed to a routine, when he reads Mark:
how first Mary Magdalene then two disciples
report encountering Jesus, alive and well
and back from the dead zone, only to be
rebuked by mourners unable to rise
out of grief to witness a miracle.
They’re church folk, he says, pausing
for effect. Just like us. He goes on
about the moral urgency pulsing
at the heart of belief (out from under
her hat, Miss Fanny pairing each call
with a responding A-men), dipping in
and out of song, half testimony,
half James Brown. Church-folk,
the pastor shouts, throwing the words
together like dice, like you and me,
ringing the “e” in “me” as a bell
at the back of his voice. Do YOU believe?
The congregation musters a lackluster
A-men. Jaron looks over, his face blank,
weighted by years he has yet to grow into.
Do you?! Did the two young souls, startled,
fingers laced, follow the bird’s path
into the cloud-jammed sky? Were they
left alone with the palpable vision? Did rain
dump down as they raced home, made
vivid in the rush of thunder? Rife
with the ache of coming alive in rebirth.
I’ve stopped listening to the pastor,
follow Jaron’s boyish daydreams
skipping out the side-door of desire.
I join him in the branches
of the giant oak, go down to the river,
throw hooky stones at the fish
propelling their shadows
deep into the future.