The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Scott Owens
THE LAND ABOVE THIS LINE IS OAK
from Thomas Anderson’s 1817 Map
of South Carolina’s Edgefield District
The difference between granite and clay
falling away to limestone, between trees
that break and those that bend out of the ground
roots and all, between stars blacked out
for half the year and those that shine year-round
faint but sure through yellow bristle of pine.
The difference between sandspur and beggar lice,
mistletoe and muscadine, plateau and sandhill
running out to plain, between names like Frogmore
and Clover, Soul's Harbor and Hard Labour Creek.
Each day they meet at the line like old friends,
shake hands above it, share the earth below.
Growing up along this line we knew that pine
meant climbing higher on limbs getting thinner
with each step upward, that oak meant broad limbs
branching out from the same trunk, a cradle
you could hide in past nightfall.
This is a very specific place in every mind
it touches. It will be something you swung from,
something you crossed despite the danger of buckshot,
something you held tight before you,
your back bending against its going away.
In winter even the river stands up like a line.
It may now slide off the bed it has made
and not spread or fade into earth,
but splinter, shard, run like a great tongue
across your doorstep, dividing your house in half.
"Your house is sliding down the hill
and will soon be in the road," says one
to the other. "Yours is caving in
on itself and will be a pile of rubble
by next year." They depend on this.
"Died mostly of death," she says,
"like any day that won't last."
He spends his days counting, drawing lines
on maps frayed with rain. There is hardly a boundary
he hasn’t crossed, though even he can't see
the lines he swears are there. The secret meaning
of the line is that it's made to be climbed
over, crawled under, walked around.
THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF STILLNESS
I turned my back
to the stream, not wanting,
for once, to see movement.
I lay down, flush
to the ground, stared
in perfect stillness
at a clear sky, held
hands from wringing,
kept fingers from turning
blades of grass.
I quieted thought,
calmed away anxiety,
remorse, let tensions
slip like rain
into the earth
from the pool of the past
to pull me back.
Nothing moved me
to tears, laughter,
there were things
I couldn't stop,
This is my son's spot, where the river
turns and heads away, a place he widened
with his own hands, scooping out sand,
to a beach of his own making. He likes it here,
beneath the biggest tree around,
out of sight of everyone else.
The water is high today and orange with mud.
I've disturbed a flock of starlings,
gregarious in their warnings, their proclamations
of squatter's rights. I shouldn't be here.
I should be back with the others,
mingling, playing the good host,
but I've just read a poem about patterns,
and now I see honeysuckle climb
the spiral stair of a sweetgum tree.
Everything grows here, things I cannot name,
some wild lily at my foot, a five-leafed vine,
something almost like dogwood, a tree
with its own camouflage, green on lighter green.
How long would I have to stay here
to turn to something green?
I used to know how to be alone,
to move from solitude to belonging,
but now I can't fight the urge
to go back and be with those I came from.
Copyright 2006-2012 by Cook Communication