Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Taking Exit 102 Toward Blacksburg, South Carolina, I Look Past the Flying J Travel Plaza and See My Mountains [poems]

Taking Exit 102 Toward Blacksburg, South Carolina, I Look Past the Flying J Travel Plaza and See My Mountains

The ramp climbs a steep hill,
the zenith of which is Gasland, USA
and Hardee’s, if you cross the road.
You can stand there with your shoes’
soles soaking up motor oil rainbows,
getting that funny tingle of dizzy
from the fumes and the cherry grape
pina colada new car air fresheners,
listening to the transport trucks barrel down
the interstate toward Gaffney’s peach
like clumsy, sleepy giants who’ve tripped
over a house and rumble while they fall.
Look for blue ripples in the distance.
Definitely North Carolina.  Maybe Tennessee?
Maybe Knoxville, where my mother was born.
My mother who’s thinner than thin should be now,
and doesn’t hold me like an infant anymore.

Mountains do not have panic attacks.
Even though they have every right
with all the roads built,
the trees sawed down and shaved off,
the trinket stores opened and closed,
the pagan rituals,
the too-soon back seat car sex, the campers,
the preservation societies, the lost hikers,
the boy scout troops with gay leaders,
the men with mid-life crisis and a peanut butter
power bar, the white girls whose father’s
father’s father’s father was a Cherokee,
the business leaders, women’s groups,
and church congregations, the trust-building,
the ropes courses, and at least one mountain’s mother
is thinner than thin should be now,
doesn’t hold her like an infant anymore,

but the mountains sit there, silent, not worrying
if they’re getting fat, or age-spotted, or dying.
They don’t lash out, or cry, or withdraw
from their friends, or form extremist policies,
or read self-help, or participate in monkey mind, or
fret over past due medical bills,
or beat themselves up for not walking twenty minutes
twice each day, or for eating a donut.  Two donuts.
They stay, they wait, they be.  They let the rain fall.
They love and take what love is offered.
My mountains, those.  Off in the distance.
 
-----

One thing (of many) that's so great about this project is that it is providing external motivation for me to live each day in my element - writing one whole poem in one sitting. For me, that's when I have the most fun writing, when I really enjoy it, and when, I think, I write the best poems. I love just sitting and writing the thing in one shot. My brain works best, most accutely that way. The poems I've struggled for.....struggle.

One thing that's really scary about this project is that I'm sending those poems immediately out into the world, to be posted and viewed. Sometimes before they're ready.

Because as much as I love writing poems in one sitting, I've learned to put them in the basement and let them age a while (say, two weeks, or a month), then take them out and taste them, make some adjustments, tinker with a few things.

You fall blindly in love with a poem when you first write it. You need to let that wear off. You need to see your poem drop its socks on the floor instead of in the laundry basket.

Or maybe you see your poem's faults from the beginning, but you need some time away, a separation if you will, to figure out how to fix it.

This is another one of those marbles that have been rolling around in my head for a while, that this project has given me the motivation and opportunity to pick up and send rolling.

I'm from Greenville, SC, which is a city in the foothills of the Appalachians. Greenville had its own little mountain, in fact, called Paris Mountain. And Asheville was just a short drive away. I very much identify as a hillbilly.

Living now in a city central to both North and South Carolina, flat land that takes more planning to get elevated, I miss the mountains, my mountains so, so much. It's odd how you can ache for a place, for a certain landscape. 

This past summer, I visited a friend in Atlanta, and on the way back, I took exit 102, which climbs a hill and - well, read the poem.

Anyway, I stood there and gazed at the mountains in the distance like a sailor looking through a spyglass toward dry land after months at sea.

Initially, I intended this poem to describe that feeling. That was what I was working toward in the first stanza.

Then I started thinking about why I felt that way about them. I started thinking about the mountains, and I began to personify them. That's how I got that first line of the second stanza.

So the poem was still about the mountains, but also, more about what they've taught me, what they offer me. 

It was about what the mountains have been through, about all the silly stuff we humans throw at mountains, and how they handle it, in contrast to how we humans handle stuff.

It's about using the mountains as roll models.

This poem needs some revision.

When I re-read it, I realized that one line could be taken as tossing gay boy scout leaders into a pile called "things we shouldn't do to mountains." That's not what I meant. For those of you who don't know me, I consider myself to be a member of the queer community. I think gay boy scout leaders are one of the last things we should worry about, and actually that was more my point - the mountains don't care about this stuff, and neither should we.

The poem was about mountains, and anxiety, and how those anxieties are sometimes valid, or sometimes silly, but either way the mountains react the same way, and so should we. We should sit there and love. Also, it was about my mother, and getting older, and fear, and love.

Like I said, this poem needs some revision.

I wrote this poem on October 7, 2014 as part of Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project

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