from A MAP OF THE COUNTY
A map of the county involves a crayon and a sunken town, a snakehandler, a boyscout, a television left on in an empty room. A map of the county’s drawn on the bathroom wall of an abandoned gas station two towns over, stained with tobacco and snuff. Or tattooed or ballpoint scrawled on someone’s hand. A map of the county’s torn in pieces gathering moonlight in the pliant grass. It sounds like water in the breeze. A map of the county has a river in its crease, something illegible where the page is scored.
The ramshackle clouds, oblique in its abandoned roadbed beneath the levee, swarmed with what look like children in the moments they still, truant flies authority would grasp. Foredawn, when even the light is poor, tired lights descend from the tar-and-gravel, decrepit comets that dream some mossy ground, and a silhouette unfolds from the meteorite door, a gravity in its arm. And through the cloud, up the soft pine steps, cut nails groaning as for coffee. Within, the scene is entropy, everything is winding down. From the bag, greasy with half-light, a ham in a net, a moon he hangs on a hook. Children gather to drag their scraps of biscuit in eclipse.
A boy stands in a pool of boy, thin pole raised, line disappearing in the early sky. The river’s mother’s hair pulled along his legs, straw and dandelion seed schooling from the net, spiderweb anemone, silt silk in his toes. If he digs harder, roots, flood-smooth rocks, catfish bone. Clouds watermark the plate-metal morning. He pulls heron, he pulls swallow, he pulls starling and redwing blackbird. His willow creel’s a sing.
The grandmother blows his tea till leaves sprawl, backward constellations, in the cup. This one is a fox, she says, something stealing into town. A blind man watches, rifle in his hand. The chicken coop is noise to ignore, the footsteps minor quiets, and he’s distracted by the crash of grackles in the naked canopy. An iceberg boats downriver, a preacher poling it from the shoals. God, he says, is cold to our indifference. His sermon drifts into the hollows and coves and sets up stills in winter gardens where revivals spread. A stonemason stacks a tower on the bluff where converts dive to salvation’s channel. She tells the boy to stay away from cold, and church, then pours him another cup of tea. When she drinks, he sees the future in her teeth.
Jake Adam York is the author of Murder Ballads (Elixir 2005) and A Murmuration of Starlings (Southern Illinois University Press 2008). Now an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, York edits Copper Nickel with his students. For more information, visit his website.