“revisiting” initially published in Carolina Quarterly

“where's carolina?” initially published in Talisman




Evie Shockley




— for l.b.s.s.


i was waiting on a poem when

my grandfather pushed through

the screen door, the wire-webbed


rectangle left slapping the wooden

jamb behind him. i hadn't seen pop

too often since he died, hadn't let

my mind zap the gray distance


from my cool bright here-and-now

apartment back to the porch where,

a girl, i waited out tennessee evening

heat in the cradle of the suspended

swing. down the dingy white cement


stairs, across the dirt yard along

a track of rusting sheets of scrap

metal and embedded flat-top stones,


pop goes, turns left at the road,

then makes his way to the pasture

gate and through to call the cows.

sook, cows, sook, sook. their lowing


answers him. they flick their ears,

push themselves up from their knees,

come like dignified dogs to begin

their procession to the barn. pop

shambles along in front, while


the cows, with their fist-sized onyx

eyes and their patternless black

and white markings, pick their way


over the uneven turf on precise

hooves. he pens them, tossing straw

over the rails with a free hand –

golden, good. he comes back to me


at 70 – the youngest i ever knew

him – wearing an old man's baggy

pants and wattled triceps, but still

able to saddle up and ride out

to the cornfields each morning.


now, p.m. chores at the barnyard

done, he mounts, swings his leg out

and over like the slow arm of a rusted


compass. gee up. the mule trods

the gravel road up from the barn,

past the house, to the stable. his

momma got a mule after the war,


along with a life-sized portion of land.

one of the lucky ones. pop turned her

forty into hundreds and hundreds.

black man with a few years of school

and a head for figures surprised


everyone but himself. back from

the stable. pop's boots molt mud

onto the porch. it'll stay there unless


my grandmother comes back to me,

too, this evening, to whisk it away

when it dries. i straddle the two

worlds: in the one, my seven-year-


old legs motoring the swing, fat toes

callusing against the dusty floor

planks they barely reach, the tired

beam that holds me aloft creaking

loud enough to fill the half-easy


silence that always fell between me

and my farmer-hero, and in the other

my thirty-three-year-old eyes able


to spot the contentment in pop's.

he's pleased to perform his evening

ritual in the company of his youngest

daughter's girl. the bowl of his pipe


in the bowl of his palm, pop pries

open the red prince albert tobacco

tin, tips out a tiny ration of the brown

ground and tamps it into the pipe's

hollow, his work-thick finger just


the right size to fit. quick hiss of sulfur-

scented flame and he's drawing peace

from poison, blowing the sweet


aroma towards me like a misty kiss,

rocking in the thin, paint-bare arms

of his old throne, watching the late sun

melt into the black branches of his trees.




where's carolina?


east of childhood, north of

                                    capitol offenses, just west

            of a big blue treasure chest :

                                                wet coffin of neglected bones.

                        in the veins, unnoticed as

a pulse. at a counter : sitting in

            varicolored eloquence. behind

                                                the mystery of the magnet. home

                        of horton, poetry's bondsman :

                                    between anger and awe. below

the line, overrated, underestimated.

                                    helms territory : within a belt,

            an expanding waste. atop hades :

                                                persephone's threshold. beside

cloud-hooded mountains.

                        outside time : a coltrane solo.

                                                far from fatal. after all.