I cannot say why they picked this place,
why they stopped moving where they did,
those ancestors of mine who settled
in this steep tangle of over- and undergrowth.
They started from outskirts of glorious cities
of the 18th Century, Heidelberg, Rotterdam,
Philadelphia, before some wayward gene
rejected that life, some code imprinted deep
in the blood line that led me back
from my own private Ithaca,
where the valleys and lakes stretch
invisible wings around a sojourner.
I cannot get close enough to the forever-
sunken spot, homeland beneath the lake,
where they built log cabins and plank barns,
turned up stony soil for scattering seeds.
Cut loose from the vision they must have had,
I strain my eyes to see, to dig my fingers
down into the dirt, to turn my mind toward
that long-ago time, to dream it as my own.
There were nights in 1989 when we drove around in my cousin Paul’s black Ford pickup truck listening to Waylon Jennings and Bob Seger tapes that had belonged to our uncles or older brothers. The backroads of Leadmine Bend and Leatherwood unfolded like maps we carried in the glovebox but never needed, our bloodline designed to track signs back to the nest, the cave, the hollowed hill. After we had talked out our problems, we rolled down the windows and turned up the songs, knowing somehow: if not now, when, and that the rest of life would have us running forever against the wind.
Some of His Stories Were True
My uncle held his cigarette like a pencil he could suddenly start writing his life story with, the loosely-related vignettes of cinder and smoke rising into open air. When a tale animated him, he waved patterns like jet trails with one hand, and shook the coffee right out of his cup. He was a man true to his moment in time, cheerful but with sudden melancholies, willing to invent a character or stage a scene if it made the story suit him better. He loved the tight line of a hooked catfish, the upshift of a V8 engine on a blacktop straightaway, driver’s front tire never losing touch with the yellow center line, free to release the fish, the gas pedal, and any fact that tried to pin him down.