There our monuments red gritstone grave markers on a low rise
South of the Sipsey River, river where amongst the cypress knees
Whispering trace of baptisms in the tannin water flow silent and slow.
Jesus behind every sacred tree and over every fireant hill.

These our monuments kudzu covered loess hills
Towering above where the River once ran
Some blood bled white there, and the blood of our others went free.
One day we’ll all go free, a hot wind in August says low.

The man who tells you anything is any other than tragedy and transcendence
Is a fool or a liar or both. That is all there is here, that is all there is anywhere.
Here, here it is sharp and bright, engraved.

These our monuments the lilting into earth house our greatgrandfather built,
Where for a few seasons buzzards roosted.
The floorboards splattered white, in spring, the face of the world there renews,
Snowdrops scattered under the oaks the tornado three years back just missed.

These our monuments the burial grounds of ancestors and ancestors’ slaves,
Hollowed bald cypress, an arrowhead cupped in hand,
Concaved thunderheads looming in July longleaf heat.

These our monuments my sharecropper granny’s fingers that
Picked cotton like nobody’s business, coaxed bloom and beauty for
Year and years from the tough soil and the takings of time.

These our monuments on red clay and muddy water, grave and ghost,
Sweat on brows, the thick air filling up our lungs,
Life and death, hate and love, pedestals untoppled and unwreathed.
Memory, we fear and pray, eternal.

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As a child I would for hours crouch along
The gentle rise of that old refuse pile, its last discarded
Entry from well before the Depression. Rhizomed grass and dropped leaves,
The archivists. I delved gently into the covering soil,
Turned black and loamy with the century past, and worked
Out bits of blue-and-white, medicinal bottles, metal melted back
Into elemental shape, and met the roots
Of the nearby sweetgum piercing the far more ancient sky above.
Beyond the daylilies nodded, following the sun. And so
I began to learn what it is to feel, rough and dark and smooth and giving-way, all,
The traces of the lives of others past, welling, up from the mothering ground.

Lightyears

Stars’ embers on almost endless delay, reach us,
Their light caught in these faded folds of the hills,
Where old oceans rolled, then rivers wound, palimpsests tracing,
Old houseplaces now under ground set round by heavy limbed
Oaks, settling. The waters move on to the living sea.
The stars flame out in the infinite distance.
Somewhere a kettle boils, steam clouds shimmer by the kitchen window
In someone’s eyes for the last time before they will close in death.

Lines for Epiphany

The voice of the Lord is over the waters
And the water’s voice also speaks
Of the hidden mystery of all things in their suchness.
Out of the veil of the six dusts, swirling about the Feet
The Baptizer was not worthy to unshod.
Out of the blood spilled by a brother on the thirsty
Ground, dried, eternally heavy.
His voice rises, warm and steady.
Not with water, but with Fire…

Here the hills are marked as if by great cosmic knives, taking
Deep clean cuts, molding wedding cake of land, the blown out bits
Of the glacial wastes, at the ice’s edge, cold lover jilted,
Washed down the River, liquid myth and sorrow.
If you listen close you might hear the blood murmuring, so close
To being silent and still, at last into that good night.
If you let your skin feel you might breathe the brush of spirits
Tangled in the kudzu vines’ frozen crawl up from the gullies,
Burrowing their dark roots into the loess bluffs, bidding the grey months.
There were flames on the hilltop then,
And you arrive a hundred years later, to look, the cinders washed away. You
Mark the columns, anonymous authored Greek tragedy scene,
Live oak weeps in Spanish moss, branches cracking. And you think
You’ve seen this all before, in a dream,
Or on a screen, maybe, fading into one another, ghost cinema.
Circumambulate the ruins, love, and put your finger to pulse. Know
That there are no more secrets here, except what we keep in ourselves.
Shame, the cold-blooded kind, manacled to heart, flesh,
No place to release it, no deeds of manumission.
We remember all too well, and not at all, as we tread the pilgrim’s road,
No absolution at the end, no word of blessing.
Just the dark roil of the River, choke of flood and silt,
Baptism of death, no fire. Look elsewhere for grace and love.
Here are only ever ruins.