Jim McGarrah

Illusion, U.S.A.

Like Kudzu, a history thrives
in tiny rural towns unaware
of its desire to control an ecology
it doesn’t understand. A tourist
in one of these towns sees
chifforobes, antique chairs,
newly varnished furniture,
and gilded busts of local heroes
fresh from important estate sales 
crowding the sidewalks on a street
strategically called Main.
Shops full of chocolate
and old-fashioned soda fountains
outline the town square.
In this 21st century, a farmers’ market
offers healthy changes to your diet
and a store stacked with used books make
you think decent country folk still read.
On one of a few special days
each year, the artsy-craftsy housewives
set up tents on the courthouse lawn
and offer homemade jams, homespun quilts,
and homegrown oddities that defy definition.
There is no urban sprawl in this pastoral scene
unless you count two convenience stores
that sell gasoline and grape slurpees,
one McDonald’s or a Pilot truck stop
just off the interstate exit a mile west
of the last Baptist church. What you won’t
notice is the misery of nostalgia.
A locomotive thunders by twice a day
with empty freight cars crisscrossing Main,
its soot and stench form a cloud of shadows
that used to hold a bank, a union hall,
two schools, a library, a family doctor,
and a single room post office in paradise.

An Occasional Poem for No Occasion

Honeysuckle rises through
a spring perfume of gasoline
from a neighbor’s leaky lawnmower
and onions boiling with garlic
in the Nigerian stew next door.

It’s a typical May day. The sun shines.
Two deer graze near the woods across
Highway 29. My dog trees a squirrel.
Somewhere someone is dying.
At 9AM my daughter bought a new car.

My son drove his old one to work.
A slight ripple of wind ruffles
the sea of dandelions near Walmart
and a siren screams in the distance. Why
is the world working so hard to implode?

In a copse of pine trees near a parking lot
crows glisten as they glean the ground
around a single metal trash bin adding
mystery to the theme of urban isolation
that would make Edward Hopper proud.

No one can define love anymore.
We have dulled the senses that create
the word. But there is no evil in my heart
this morning, and I’m as close to being
born after being born as anyone gets.

Jim McGarrah is author of ten books. His poetry collections include Running the Voodoo Down, which won an Elixir Press book award and A Balancing Act: New and Selected Poems in May of 2018 by Lamar University Press. McGarrah’s memoir of war entitled A Temporary Sort of Peace (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2007) won the national Eric Hoffer Legacy Nonfiction Award. Blue Heron Book Works published his latest nonfiction book, Misdemeanor Outlaw, in 2017.



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