The Northern Road

1.

 

I should have known

him but I had no prior

experience with prophets.

 

Something about the time of day

felt still as

 

            the invisible press of tobacco,

the rustle of upturned leaves

in a thousand barns.

 

Finality slides deeper.

Uncut grasses roll and die.

 

Commodified firewood fills

the absence of orchard bones.

 

Other attractions:

 

winter anonymity,

            once done

creeps into country,

etches convoys in the woods.

 

The prohibition of nostalgia

is born in

cellar holes and undone buttons.

 

Ochre cigarettes paper the urinal.

Letters above the caricatures.

 

 

Please proceed in an orderly fashion

toward the faith cures.

 

Changes that would seem evidently

            paranormal

such as

            the regeneration of lost fingers

do not arise

in the context of

                        modern healers.

 

Still it remains—

glass in her wound.

 

I never left the house

I just took the door with me.

 

 

2.

 

The mouth is an archway

            semi             elliptical

 

The walls and roof bow

 near the centre

and retain that curvature

            to the end.

 

The floor inclines upward,

at the far end comes to meet

the bent ceiling.

 

This excavated channel is

born of deposits and erosion.

 

Near the ceiling two narrow

crevices extend across

and beyond the Cave.

 

One has a chimney-like opening

large enough to admit                                    a man.

 

This small place is known

as the ‘upper cave’

and has a history and fiction

all its own.

 

This is the hermitage

of river thieves and highwaymen.

 

Early travellers designated it

by various names, all of which

contained the word ‘Cave.’

 

‘It has the appearance of

something like a large oven.’

 

‘We beheld numbers of names

cut into the sides of the Cave.’

 

I don’t know what ownership means

except to say

you own the silence that surrounds you.

 

In dwelling

the only occupation is

the air you leave behind.

 

 

 

 

A part

or particle            unsettled;

a disused cavern

                                    of breath.

 

Won’t you

            come                        in?

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: 

 

This poem was influenced by my time with the residents of John Moroney Correctional Facility and the landscape that surrounds it. It also responds to geological formations in an area known as Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois.  Specifically, the place known as Cave-in-Rock that overlooks the Ohio River and the Natchez Trace.  Throughout the nineteenth century, Cave-in-Rock was the seasonal home of generations of highwaymen and river pirates, who escaped detection within the inner cave.  I am grateful for Otto A. Rothert’s excellent regional history, The Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock (1924).  The quotes in part two are adapted from a letter by the British Astronomer Francis Baily, dated April 16, 1797, detailing his visit to Cave-in-Rock. 

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