Communion with the Rebel Flag
I must have back-sassed at birth,
so mother soaped the drawl
from my mouth, along with dis and dat
and the taste of slurs, the songs
of my people and their laments,
leaving me orphaned, a mute
in the vaudeville act. She threatened
suds at the first syllable of slang,
but her plan backfired, and sometimes
that drawl escapes. Angry or drunk
is when I sound like what I am,
a coonass mystic, courteous but resentful,
defeated daughter of a last place state,
tormented by my family name recorded
in the confederate book of the dead.
A rebel, but I'm not sure against what.
I'm proudly AWOL from the worst
of southern culture's hostilities.
I've told redneck jokes and sipped
from the I have a dream coffee mug on which,
hot beverage added, red states fade to blue,
but like a lapsed Catholic I can stand up,
sit down, and say the words. I confess
not solidarity but a soft spot for chutzpah
in the underdog since reading
that Confederate statues face north
out of defiance, and I have milked the drawl
to get what I want out of strangers.
And is this not southern pride? Am I not
proud—ambassador between worlds,
mingling undercover on pontoon boats
among sportsmen with trapper beards.
I'm offended, but I drink their beer
and live in limbo between worlds,
both everything and nothing
I was taught to be.
All Jesus, all the time—it must be
part of the plan. Jesus in tribal tattoos,
in burnt toast up for bid on EBay,
in crop circles farmers mow down
without noticing red-winged clouds
of common birds lifting from fields of soy.
Scrawny kudzu Jesus, utility pole scarecrow,
his green cloak offering comfort and shade
to hitchhikers and their rope-collared dogs.
A mystery man pulsing in the slightest wind,
not quite the same as the scruffy, muscled youth
portrayed by the Dove Park Church of God
brow beating from a billboard mid-crucifixion,
all agony and sweat and warring words—
Consider your way. I guess nothing is sacred,
that no road trip east to the Gulf Coast casinos
can ever start off on the right foot. His glare
troubles me more than what some vandals
back sassed over it in white bubble letters.
Their profanities burn about as much
as puffs of smoke. All damnation,
all the time—it can't be true in this world where green
blunts the edges of everything, but just in case,
God forgive my open eyes, my unrepentant gawking.
The Poet Warrior
Rural carrier, deliverer of bad news, yesterday
you brought a royalties statement and--low blow!--
documentation of a year in which so few copies moved
there was no point in them cutting a check.
And so it is with both seriousness and a wink
that I am moving on, revoking my book of devotions
to the Dirty South and offering it instead as a gift
to the people of South America, to nuns that pinch,
and to falconers starving down their birds in the dark.
Publisher, I beg you not to pulp! These poems
have traveled shotgun, my front seat comrades,
companions through carpool and the car wash.
If you have given up on my book, recycle the pages
into paper dolls, hole punch confetti, usher wishes
into being with a thousand thousand origami cranes.
In my dreams, and in my poems, I can fly.
I cross my backyard swamp by moonlight,
for back up a rescue dog with webbed feet whose
barking at all that moves has rid my yard of birds.
Someone (me!) stood here (the woods behind my house!)
watching clouds race across the moony dark
and reached the conclusion that locusts revving at dusk
is as good a sound as any to die to, if die we must.
Are there locusts in South America? Are there spiders
that anchor monstrous webs of gold to stop signs
and power lines? I ask these questions of no one,
moving my lips like a village mystic, the last speaker
of her language spitting out what must be curses, or prayers.
Alison Pelegrin's most recent poetry collection is Waterlines (LSU Press 2016.) She is also the author of Hurricane Party (2011) and Big Muddy River of Stars (2007), both with the University of Akron Press. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, her poems appear in recent issues of The Southern Review, Tinderbox, and The Cincinnati Review.