The boys swarmed down the red banks as if hungry, their four-wheelers kicking up slop-brown wings, careening full speed between bodies caked & fecund with eyes like bright seeds in the sludge. They had never considered breaking, these dozen dozen boys. Never muck in a mouth not spit out. They looked invincible because they were. I stood on the rim with the women, hands pinned to hips, toes over the precipice, more mother than child, heron than boy, thin, blue, & poised for flight. What does homesick mean to a migratory bird? Their shirts clung to them like clay. They shed them, slung them to the banks & were clay. I couldn’t say what kept me from them. I couldn’t say what kept me spotless as they leaped & lifted & tossed, shifting the very earth as they moved. I couldn’t say what I wanted from that bitter chocolate soup of sandstone & water & men. I knew but couldn’t understand why I was the only one who’d leave that place unclean.
Feeding the Whippoorwills
At dusk a moth crawls out of my mouth. The want my soft tongue smothered grows powdery wings that bear my eyes’ blue sins. Taste of salt & milk & a boy I imagined. Six eyelash legs on my lips. It flutters into the crepuscular woods with the small snowy message of its life: What I am is unearthly & must resort to flight. Up from under the kudzu-strife the whippoorwills rise from their grounded nests & speak the sound of quicksilver into the mid-spring night. The grandmothers of the hollers say they call when a soul finds home. Others that they hunt the spirits of the unfulfilled for food. O moonlight— buoying my insectoid confession, hanging like a bridge toll’s coin of bone in the bird’s obsidian eyes. Refract in all the facets of the moth’s compound lenses your high promise of cool flame. Distract it from the widening maws of the psychopomps approaching. & when they close their beaks on the night’s hungry mission, keep this secret for me. Let their bellies be lanterns that leak no light. Not even when they sing.
Dear spud cellar & bacon gravy, I’m sorry. Dear woodstove’s ash pile over the hill, It wasn’t my fault, not all. I sang along with your whippoorwills, threaded my feet through your creeks. You rooted in my lungs, mudded into my skinned knees. You were the ivy’s toxin on my toes & the aloe Mamaw cut me. You were the tick in my navel. Were you my blood? Perhaps before you named me haint. Before I crawled from the holler. Before you got a Little Caesar’s. Before I got a dead tooth. You tried to blame me for what my mouth did, growing into itself like quartz. You were the soil that made the hydrangeas white, the wind in the chimes that scared the deer from the peach tree. & the peach tree. & the deer. I was the hoofprint it left behind. No. I was the moonlight that filled it, then drained.
Letter to a Boy Back Home
Our words don’t fit your mouth. Your otter, your pup, your bear literal animals. Even boy comes out wrong falling from your lips Ken-dolled. Poor seedless plum. The dead garden behind your house didn’t start there. Someone long gone tore it up from the earth & carried it to the holler where the kudzu claimed it. The same is true for boys like us. We were not born in Kentucky we were born in the woods & unrooted replanted inside county lines. If the native birds had named us we’d be singing with the whippoorwills now their nocturnal, silver elegy for spring. Instead the coal carts full of fathers. Instead the feathers in your throat. Instead your name so thick with poison oak you know it only as the rash it leaves in your mouth. Your lips red muscadine skins. Come, little fruit. These knives I ate will cut you wings.
Dylon Jones is a queer writer from rural Appalachia. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he works as the Senior Editor of Louisville Magazine. His poems have also appeared or are forthcoming in The Rupture, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Redivider, and Miracle Monocle. He tweets @Dyl_In_Lou.