By Jo Clark
Garysburg, North Carolina is a bird sanctuary.
So is Auland and every other empty nest town slinking into swamp on coastal plain. 943 people live in Garysburg.
Less people than beating wings.
I move slow as the parched creek that
runs eastward, so the signal is easy to
see— spread in the street, pointing to
red-wolf country, black bear crossing.
I park on the pecking order road. Struck
by the silence of a sixth extinction. I, the
only sound this town contains.
Framework of metal screeching synthetic mockingbird’s song.
Down here, on the asphalt, the ground is hot beneath my cheek—
skin crackles like yolk across the
dashed yellow line. We lay beneath a
The crumpled body of a cooper’s hawk
orange eye turned skyward—the
ground is no place for a bird in
Garysburg. Splayed wing outstretched,
reaching for sky where it is safe
in Garysburg, bird sanctuary the cooper’s hawk has a punctured feathered chest. 943 people, less than being
a bird in Garysburg means you are supposed to be safe.
all my family does is forget
After my grandfather who remembered
nothing but how to stare;
And my grandmother who reached for me,
called me mama;
And my mother, who said,
when it’s me, take me out back like a sick dog.
On the last day I can remember it,
I will take my sisters’ hands and I will say
listen, I have so much to tell you:
I am thankful for memory
for every soft crevice
of my collapsing
brain. Purple eyes
closed and drifting
out into the field behind
our childhood home.
by blue jeans pulled
over icicle legs,
all of us, long hair, baby
bangs and wanting the great
expanse of Cowbone Creek
to curl into our arms, too.
Do you remember the way
the haybales on Claribel’s
farm rolled so soft when
the calves nudged them?
How we wished
we too, could make
such gentle lines, waving
our limbs like threshers
against the grass?
Do you remember
the ticks wedged
into our socks?
When I went down in the ditch
from the old dead tree?
Do you remember the way I dropped?
Tell me again.
Take me outside and
tell me again, how pretty
These Keys I Hold
I hold the keys to every home I’ve ever known—
the backwoods grotto, moss-made and elm-reared. I learned forest
baths in the redbud river and the language of fawns, untouched
and scentless, gentle, quick and clever, I was prey
protected, too innocent to be ensnared, too
busy plodding through dawn sod and autumn’s heavy breath.
To the broken down barn where Navaja once breathed,
a world of beasts gone by and I, a child, growing into unknown
years. Blurred and buried, she slept, rippled belly, hindquarters. Hitherto
unmentioned, that fall when my Father let her body rest.
I hold that key to her slumber too, I hid it where we would pray
to St. Eligius to keep her. I went back once, left every blade of grass untouched.
At the bottom of the swimming pool, puckered vinyl, concrete touched
by burning bare soles, our baby toes dancing across the heat, clumsy breath
of midsummer. I lived there too, algae infant turned chlorine prayer
sat by slipping garden hose, sipping out of thumb-and-index tea-cup. Overgrown
butterfly bush, frothing with life. This key rests beside the pile of stones, crest
of waterlogged hair, in finger-woven braids and my mother’s hands, too.
One home, browned golden by oven heat, built from six pies all sweetened to
the ink of heritage’s pen, thundering footsteps, as she boisterously ouch-ed,
hot pan in hand. And the slow squeal of the kettle, churning out a test
of sound and speed. A glass table top smudged by eager fingers and dog’s breath.
This key is slick from canola oil and broken egg shell thrown
Across the tile. I can only grasp at it before it slips—the junk drawer’s prey.
Perhaps, a seven-hour journey to an island forgotten, stunted in time—stuck prey
to mosquitoland and the ghostly swing of a pirate shanty. This home is either too
new to root in, or too easy for the old soil to give. Half sand, grown
into revolutionary graveyard, old bike chains twist like friendship bracelets touched
by ivy and the names of soldiers and sailors alike. She set this key in my hands, breath
of sea breeze and kiss of phantom figurehead. I took it and kept it in my chest.
And yet of all these homes I’ve known, I return to that clearing within the forest
where I found cow skulls and wishbones, a field empty if not for wildflowers, or pray
our footprints trail, rushing like the creek that cut through the earth, wreath
of goldenrod. The coyotes with their yowling would lure me back, too.
As if to say—sister wild, come run with us beneath a buck moon, unbreached.
Sun-day child, turn your eyes toward a world nocturnal, a window unknown.
I cannot stop hoarding the homes that I’ve known. I review them without rest
for fear that I’ll forget the faces I found there, too, or the feeling of the morning’s breath.
I repeat and hide these moments, prey to age and decay, safe within my chest, a world untouched.
Jo Clark is a poet and student at the University of Virginia. She is studying Medieval & Renaissance Literature and Poetry Composition. She is also a member of the University's poetry slam team.