“Mama Goma” (2014) | Photos by Deana Lawson © 2018 Deana Lawson. Courtesy Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. From Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph (Aperture, 2018)
By Davis McCombs
Go down our potholed road, past the last light in the last house
and the old glass foundry now slated for demolition, go past
the tattered heaps of salted snow, the tracks, a cold sun sliding
like an egg yolk off a plate and over the cross-tied edge
of the world, and you will come to where the creek, in flood,
scrapes a rut through gravel, but it shouldn’t be a problem,
not this time of year, and finally the road just peters out
into a deer track and then not even that—just hills, just Arkansas—
and it’s not pretty, not anybody’s pastoral dream, only scrub
and broken bottles, and that rusted pipe through which,
improbably, a dogwood has found the light, and there’s no shepherd
stepping from the trees with his crook, not even the curve of moon
that gathers each night its flock of polished stones, but down there
in that shabby closeness, that’s where whatever it is that saves me is,
where, praise be to something, it waits in briars like Jesus or literature.
Listen to Davis McCombs read “Of Thorns”
I dream so often now across this vast plateau, the broken dome
of granite . . . I’ve come to call the Ozarks home.
Some nights I find the bent shape of the great bull
brooding starrily over our field, the sky turning like spokes
above a herd of winter-thinning deer who fold up,
with frost on their ribs, to sleep, and I think of people
I never knew: there’s Maw Earl on a straw mattress fighting to bring
her seventh, and final, child into these hills—a boy at last,
after six little girls. And there’s the father, old Satch,
staggering around the barn with a Mason jar half-full of the liquid
that will drown him, and praying sweet-and-merciful-Savior-
oh-please for a son. And there’s little Kit at the foot
of her trundle, about to be supplanted; she’s saying her own prayer
that the baby, christened Azariah, but known as Scuppernong,
Oh-Jesus-can-you-hear-me-I’ll-do-anything, will die.
He doesn’t, and ten years later, more or less, he’ll be cleaning a shotgun . . .
It’s so easy now to see the burnished light in the orchard,
the yellow jackets heckling the windfall apples, Maw
astride a split log shelling beans; I can hear the pings they make
against the pan, and then the explosion. No doctor near,
and not a dime to their names, his foot will never heal,
not properly, and so it’s Scup now, who knocks once at my office door
and enters as the last orange glow retracts across the boxwood
out the window—Gonna be a cold one, Professor—
and hobbles in with his four-legged cane to empty my small trashcan
into a larger one with wheels.
Listen to Davis McCombs read “Trundle”
In time, you’ll come to see the pond’s scuffed monocle
under a cloud-tossed Texas sky, a goldfinch twitching
from the treeline. Couple of drinks—it doesn’t take much—
and Barb will edge the conversation toward the precipice
that is the land she owns and is planning to go back to;
you’ll learn it’s half a farm—her split of a divorce settlement.
You’ll come to imagine the NO TRESPASSING signs tacked
along the access road, old Whatshisface, her ex, stalking
his side of the wire, still sucking on a flint-sharp grudge.
There’s a barn there too, or was, last time she checked,
its window snagging the sun that sinks into the hill.
She says she’s ordering some pines to dibble-in along
the boundary when she gets down there next, that’s the plan,
going to build a little cabin eventually. She’s gesturing.
She sees it all: a brood of chicks under a heat lamp,
an ungulate or two, who knows? She’s shaping the basin
of the spring, miming how she’ll scoop it out, the dripping of its liquid like the ticking of a clock whose hands
have led her round and round that hill: the redbud’s blotch
along the rise, the slope, the shed, the rusted nail on which
she’ll hang that grass-stained scythe that is the moon.
Listen to Davis McCombs read “Liquid Assets”
The Hill Itself
I walk beside the bluff’s occlusion
on a day when Spring is shaking
fistfuls of wild onions in the grass.
A pickup rattles over the cattle
grate: one old man looking for
another old man, something
about wanting to buy a model
train. Wrong house. Wrong
road. He takes his time leaving,
though, even gets out at the pond
and skips a couple of sandstone
flakes across the mirror. There’s
something here, isn’t there?
This slope, these old erosions—
something that isn’t a remnant
of anything, and I bet he feels it too.
Ten years halfway up the cheek
of Roundtop Mountain. To
share this hill’s battered light
is to share its purple distances—
those too—I’ve sensed that much:
a whiff, a twinge, an inkling.
For instance: the phoebes shape
mud cups in which the winter
will lay eggs of ice. For instance:
the fence posts, rotting, stain
the sockets they grow loose in.
Listen to Davis McCombs read “The Hill Itself”
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