The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Matt Prater

Some of What Falls On The Wicked Falls On Me

 

I

Everything that happens here makes here. When
the banana-sweet paw paw ripens, that is ours. When
its whole grove is razed for Starbucks, that’s ours too.

What’s strange at first becomes the unthought of:
ubiquitous, then for granted, then forgotten.
Before we all ate Irish breakfasts, no one did.

And when they first played “Little Margaret”
back in Sussex and in Kent, when they called it
Fair Margaret and Sweet William, there was no banjo

in all of Sussex to strum it on; now who could think
of better company for “Little Maggie”? (If they still
know some older folk who know the tune, that is.)

When mountaineers lynched, the ones they lynched
were other mountaineers; and every mountain mosque
defamed by rednecks is a mountain mosque

full of rednecks eating kufteh off of paper plates,
hiding all their T-Pain downloads from their Moms,
and planning youth group trips to Dollywood.


II

Some would say that this place is its refusers,
and whatever they’d say of them they say of all.
Rowan Co., in its refusals, was mountaineer.

But every couple it refused knew mountains, too.
There ARE moonscapes of plucked imaginary spiders
on the cheeks of moms whose girls get moved away.

And putting up the front of Andy Griffith;
and spitting in the face of Vice, and Cracked,
and Huffington and Jezebel, all the digital rags

from Williamsburg or 45th who love to pity
and expose our snakely wonders; none of that
will bring back any mountain stripping killed,

or any tooth the lit spoon has knocked out.
But neither will selling our spectacle to cities
where murder’s log to mote with Harlan Co.

If our twang’s censused as our eternal hovel,
still the rainbow of West Asheville is ours, too
(along with all the stings of gentrification).


III

It has never been easy for me to take sides.
I know what each flag means: the red Scots cross,
and the one with its yellow snake curled up to strike;

and little they’ve meant holds anything for me.
Still, I’ve been there, among those few’ve bothered
to ask: men who spent late summer days in wool

throwing crabapples out as proxy cannonshot,
then of evenings before their heavy canvas tents
played on period banjos “The Girl I Left Behind Me”

and lamented what the common man has lost.
There were no obvious easy epithets; all hatred
was funneled to Lincoln for Andersonville

and to the devil’s bastard William Sherman.
Of course, it was easy to stay so: all were cousins,
all grandaddy’s grandaddy’s come from Germany.

I know what they left out was the heart of the beast;
and I know that beast tore flesh with rancid fangs.
And I know that beast is living, and rampages.


IV

But: did it mean nothing what they left out?
Did it mean nothing that they loved the soldiery
for the same things its commanders condemned

in Yanks—their ease with lathes and common
working tools; their self-ran farms; their citizenry
rough-hewn and ungentlemanly? I should say not.

Open use of hard words known by letter only,
and reused needles spreading their deletions.
All unpleasant. All defame us. All are real. But

if the crimes of our fathers are indefensible,
are we accessories for remembering how they
once held us on their knees and called us sugar,

if we cling to those pre-critical recollections? If
we are--and very well, maybe, yes we are--then maybe
some of what falls on the wicked falls on me. So

how can I love the old fathers, or not love them?
I kiss, I spit, I turn away from them forever. Then
I turn back to them again and wipe them dry.


Matt Prater

Mascoting Homer Davenport

 

Well, used to there was this man who would come into town when I was a little girl,
and he had a big grey Santa Claus beard and a green Army duffle bag full of snakes he sold
to we never had any idea to who, although I saw them once when my Uncle Percy and Uncle Vernon
sold him a big of corn, which they said, at the time, was dog food, though it wasn’t money
they brought back to the car. Now I heard he shot his first wife off of a bicycle, or in bed
with her lover he shot him, or from the back when he was hanging a picture.
and then he went up on the mountain. Yeah, he used to live near town, a regular farmer,
but I suppose so long the police knew where he was, there was no use going after a hermit.
Figured he’d already put himself in a kind of prison, though he seemed happy enough
One time he brought me a tanned rabbit skin, told me I could fold it
and keep all of my fishing lures in it, like the olden day people. But he
wasn’t an olden day people. He knew how to read and how to drive,
and I don’t think he never killed nobody, except for snakes and rabbits
and other edible forest figures. Less a mountain man and more a refugee,
a hermit, a layman unaffiliated monk. And a reality star, though nobody
called it that, then, when he got in that Peter Jenkins book
and got a little famous for a while. People would come to climb up Red Rock
and find him, like he was some kind of mountaineer guru. But he wasn’t a guru.
Really, nobody knows just what or who he was. He could’ve been
Johnny Appleseed, for all we knew and made and made known of him.
He did know how to catch snakes and set traps and build his own house
and boil his own water and survive alone and without having read Thoreau,
though I’m pretty sure he could’ve and hell, maybe he did. I don’t like to use him,
being that I never knew him or his family, but I do think of him sometimes
and it sustains me, when I’m sitting behind that desk or that stack of papers,
and I ain’t had river water in mouth or on my feet for a whole six months,
and ain’t talked to a soul I could think to say the word ain’t to. So sometimes,
yeah, I’ll set em up in my head on a big old tandem bike inside my mind, pick em off
and let that bike tip over, then go home carrying dinner to my bloodhounds.


Matt Prater

Serenade

When it is Spring,
and the rain is finally warm,
and the greenhouses open,
I would to just stand
there, watching lilacs
in the thunderstorm
get turned on. Great
blossoming toads
with their eggs of jelly
cluster against the cattails
that sway with the lot
of sealike seagrass
in our town’s
jungle of ponds. Praise
God for the broken hankering,
and the ever-here sadness
from the sweet tinged
echoing source.

It's as if I have
some genetic memory
that when this hill
was maybe twenty feet higher,
I had the eyes of a hawk
surveying the earth.
I was a great bird
that sat on my own
shoulder, saying
If some donkey
turned and blew
in your ear, would you
finally admit the will
your will protests?

There are slow
and lonely times,
unattuned in us
as dogs are unattuned
to chocolate; but we
have a different pact
that lizards with the earth.
So your socks are not the ones
Neruda talks about, simple
and odorless and warm? Be
grateful: you’ll probably
never wear your socks in exile.
Get up from your work now
and walk to the window;
there is a man coming by
juggling oranges,
a ribbon of cirrus
coming undone
behind him.

We’re given maybe
five whole seconds
in a day, usually a lull,
or a certain slant of light,
that pours like cream
over all things,
sweetly hallowed.
This is all we know,
though we jabber on constantly
about the swimming pools
or gold harps of Heaven.
Yet who can give a gift
like God gives nothing,
withholding from us now
the everything we own
until we take account
of one small drop of rain?
God, who can give only
of God’s self, dispenses
effervescent atmospheres
of blessing—the rain
which feeds the fields
and dissipates forever.
So we must not despise
this lovely home we're given
of although broken
only temporary earth.
When the mandolin player
slows her strumming
down, there is a space
in the heart of the playing
where that one we used to know
aches in us forever. Everything
returns to its source again
in jazz and baseball,
cosmological theory,
all I-Ching castings,
a proper ghazal’s end.

It is June, and the rhododendrons
are blooming on Grandfather Mountain.
Everyone is beautifully invisible—Come.
Come to the garden now, exactly
as you are. Come to me there,
and if the moon does not come out,
I will lay with you in the dark
and take dark on. Even
when the gingko leaves
have fallen, yellow,
and the low black clouds
lose their thunder and congeal,
and the earth is a chilled
gelatin stone, come.

 

 

 

MATT PRATER is a poet and writer from Saltville, VA. Winner of the George Scarbrough Prize for Poetry and the James Still Prize for Short Story, his work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, The Honest Ulsterman, and The Moth, among other publications. He is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech.

 

 

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