Alabama – 10 (of 10)

(Part 10 and last)

I wonder who might live out there,
And what might be their weight of care;
For those few moments, I will stare,
Then these thoughts pass,
They always pass.

I wonder back to long ago,
And why things turned exactly so
And why we’ve still so far to go,
Then these thoughts pass,
They always pass.

For love is in the hinterlands,
And love is in the cities,
And understanding can be had
In twos, but not committees —
And where we come from isn’t always
Where we end up going,
And why the wicked prosper so,
There really is no knowing.

I wonder at the coming rain,
If love will find a home again,
I’m spinning like a weather vane,
But these thoughts pass,
They always pass.

To Alabama, now, I leave
These few scant measures that I weave,
And know that I at last believe —
What comes to pass will come

To pass

Alabama – 9 (of 10)

(Part 9)

Over the years, I’ve told
Many Alabama stories on this blog.
Of theatrical performances,
Of near-loves, and mis-loves, and camping trips;
Of drives in the country, and trips to the city;
Of memories, and other people’s lives.
Through them, I want to show
The unity of experience people have.

For many of us, images and stories
Determine what we think we know about a place,
And its people,
Whether another city, or state,
Or country,
Or even a place like prison.
We do not realize, sometimes,
That what we feel comes from other, often
Long-ago stories,
And that no one recounting is the story,
The only one we need to understand a place,
A person, or an era.

We all seek (and I understand this only too well)
Simplicity: but we should not let that desire
Hide reality from us, for happiness, while simple,
Is only one aspect of a life.
Virtually all others are complicated.

Earlier (than this series) “Alabama” poems:

The Christmas Letters
Love Spasm The Fourth
Love Spasm The Fourth – Postscript
Florence Tower
The Torch Cafe
Spotted Driving #4
Remembering My Father
Gulf Shores
The Wanderer’s Vision
Eagle and Phenix
Balance Loading

Alabama – 8 (of 10)

(Part 8)

Life needs water, and
It’s better to irrigate than
To arrogate.


  Selfishness is… odd, because
  None of us likes it when
  Practiced by others.

  Selflessness, too, is odd, because
  Many people feel so little
  Natural inclination towards it.


The worker knows that
Good machines are just good tools,
And good tools are never the problem.

Bad tools can be a problem,
Or good tools put to bad use,
Or good tools used in excess of purpose.

So much of the old wisdom is still the best,
To do things in due season and proportion,
To share where you can and save for misfortune,

To plant your seeds where they can grow
And not then trust to fate, who makes
A rather indifferent farmer.

And though not everyone is equal
In the task of nurture, not
To leave what could be done, undone.

Alabama – 7 (of 10)

(Part 7)

I wandered the detritus of
And old deserted farm;
Abandoned places, I have found,
Are not without their charm —

It’s just off of 331,
A little north of Brantley:
I had a walking stick in hand,
For this can well be chancy,

But more for dogs, than anything.
I clambered over rubble —
The burnt out garden in the back
That looked like razor stubble —

And found an ancient wagon, with
Archaic iron wheels,
Whose little flat expanse had carried
Countless many meals

Or led to their production.
It’s amazing to think how
The life that was so long ago
Is here, at hand, right now.

There’s a “FOR SALE” sign out in front,
And agent, name of Pruitt;
And if I had the wherewithal
I just might try to do it,

To call the number, try to buy,
A whole new life to enter —
But I am not a farmer, I
Am more of a commenter.

So back into my car I go.
To aimless drive, and ponder
About the whims of history,
And wonder as

I wander

Alabama – 6 (of 10)

(Part 6)

Unitasking: that is is this year’s theme.
It was the best-I-could-come-up-with scheme
For maybe less anxiety and stress,
And being more by trying, doing less.

The hay is in the barn, and now some care
Is taken for it’s safety; it’s the phase
Where farmers must be cautious and beware,
For barn-burner’s not just some made-up phrase.

But this is how it is when storing things:
We think of them inert, only to find
They may catch fire, in a barn, or mind
With all that flaming devastation brings.

  So keep your vigil, let not heed abate,
  What seems inocuous may deflagrate

Alabama – 5 (of 10)

(Part 5)

Past the river, out near Butler,
My best friend was getting married.
He said, “turn by the power lines,”
But we got lost out somewhere out in a field.

By the time we got there,
People were mostly gathered for
The rehearsal: the bride
And her four sisters,
(Including her twin, and
Another set of twins)
Her mother and her father,
My friend’s parents, and
A few others I’d yet to meet.

Her family obviously had money: turns out
They had owned the paper mill near town.
The rehearsal dinner was at fish camp,
Where the food was very, very good,
Some kind of local hot sauce,
And alcohol flowing everywhere and freely.

As best man, I had stuff to do:
But I spent part of that night at the camp
And the next day at the family house (where the wedding was)
Getting the history of her family from
Her sister, who as matron of honor,
Had stuff to do as well, but took some stolen minutes
To tell me about her family.

“We’ve been here for years, and years,
Our family goes back ages, although,
We mostly were just fishermen, but one
[Her great-grandfather, I believe]
Became a lawyer, mayor, and a judge,
Then he and a brother bought land,
Which ended up being the paper mill
Where the family money really came from.
Dad sold it a few years ago, the money was
Way too good for him to pass up. Now,
He restores classic cars,
And drives an Alvis TD 21 –
It’s just out there.”

(It took my breath away)

I also met the husbands, it turned out
The other sisters all were married, and
A joyful, motley group of guys they were.
One a fireman, he lived in town, the only one who did.
Another was a French professor,
I never got what college he was at.
A third worked in a government office
Over in Montgomery; he seemed
The funniest and quietest of the bunch.
And the husband of the twin
Owned a clothing store up in Decatur.
I found it interesting to see
That none of the husbands were from rich families,
Apparently the sisters used other criteria in
Selecting; at any rate, had we not come here,
I never would have known the family had money,
For they were down-to-earth, and unassuming.

The wedding was very beautiful, and we gave our toasts
At the party after, in the prescribed manner,
About the happiness we saw, or foresaw,
In the newlyweds.

I later walked out of the party, tipsy,
Looking at the moon in a dark blue sky,
And wondered about happiness prophecies:
If making them is any way related to them coming true.
But decided, even if not,
That a happy day
Is a happy day
And we should take them where we find them.

Postscript: My then-wife and I (obliquely referred to above as “we”) got separated, and then divorced, two years after this wedding; my friend and his wife were married for ten years after that, until a gambling addiction caused her to bankrupt the two of them and led to their divorce. He recently got engaged, to a woman down in Florida, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

Alabama – 4 (of 10)

(Part 4)

It’s summer on the lake —
My friends are laughing down the way;
I am beneath a tree,
And full of reading.

The splashes off the dock
Intrude a little in my thoughts,
My smiling thoughts,
As into space I go, though intermittent.

I sip some water, then
Put down my bottle, doff my shirt,
And run to join them,
Shoving my friend Andy
Off the dock, into the lake,
But he grabs me, as well,
And we both tumble.

There is a smell of hot dogs grilling,
Grilling in the shade,
Our counselors, or so they’re called,
A few kids in kayaks, canoes,
And bright sun driving us to be
Either within the shade or in the lake —

I dry off with a towel,
And chat with Sandy, sitting with her sister,
Both red as flame, and freckled,
Just like I am,
As we walk back into the shade,
I ask her if
She’d like to sit together
At the movie —

Her voice gets shy, and she says, “sure,”
And we then go
In opposite directions
Towards her sister
Towards Andy
(Me, the latter)

He’s drying off, and says,
“Well, did you ask her?”

I nod, and he so he punches me
Up on the shoulder, like boys do,
Although I spill a little water,
Which I then fling at him.
No harm is done.

The shadows stretch into the evening:
Cinder-block showers taken, soapy,
Steam that never leaves the cabin,
Flies that join us as we’re walking,
Wearing after shave, although we don’t —

A wooden chapel, wooden seats,
A movie screen stood up in front,
A few old fans to keep us cooler,
When she comes in, her red hair
A torch to my young eyes —

No hands are held, few words are said,
But smiles fleeting are exchanged,
The movie is an awful one
But yet we like it, or
We like the feeling

I walk her halfway down the path,
The leave her to her sister, friends,
And wander back the other way
To join my own friends, planning out some venture

And later, sleep is
  distant voices,
  bright red hair, and
  outer space,

  sweating underneath a fan,

  and all that is a summer

  on the lake

Alabama – 3 (of 10)

(Part 3 – “Tuskegee”)

The word means “warrior”. It’s on a sign
That says this is the forest of that name;
The rain’s still falling here and there, and I
Look down the long and swaying rows of trees
That I will not be entering today.
The town is just nearby: it’s famous for
The warriors that trained here long ago…

From nineteen forty through the war, they flew:
In northern Africa and Italy
They showed that fighters do what fighters do.
The strange psychology of those long days
Are hard to understand: the Jim Crow laws
And pseudo-science of the decade show
That what we fought against, we also did.
But it’s not like all that has gone away,
Or that there’s any age free of the taint.

The day is gray and dank and puddle-filled;
The lake is rippled with the falling rain,
Just past the forest, right inside the town,
There is a store with aging arcade games
And an old sign for “Diet Rite” that may
Have been her when the Airmen walked these streets.
I pull in, buy some gas, and grab a Coke,
The rain is easing up and so I go.

The University is down the way.
It’s famous for a lot things, but one’s
An ugly stain upon our history:
Experiments where men were left to die
Untreated for the illnesses they had,
Having been lied to by their government.
It’s shocking now to think (and it was then)
What people do in careless disregard
For anything like mere humanity.

I grew up in the seventies myself,
And knew this place as having given birth
To Lionel Richie and the Commodores
Whose music was a big part of our lives.
I pull into a dirt road outside town,
And queue up “Brick House” through my stereo:
A dog comes out to greet me, looking back
When he gets called – and I can hear his name –
“JER-dən”, is how we say it in these parts –
As he runs off, I pull back out to go,
Another song comes on after the last:

Sail on down the line, ain’t it funny how the time can go on
Friends say they told me so, but it doesn’t matter
It was plain to see that a small town boy like me
Just-a wasn’t your cup of tea
It was wishful thinkin’
I gave you my heart and I tried to make you happy
And you gave me nothin’ in return
You know, it ain’t so hard to say, “Would you please just go away,” yeah, yeah
I’ve thrown away the blues, I’m tired of bein’ used
I want everyone to know I’m lookin’ for a good time, good time

Alabama – 2 (of 10)

(Part 2)

D.G. Sipsey needs the clouds.
He needs them not too often, nor too rarely,
And his wheat and hay and soy all take theirs
In differing proportions. Like his dad,
And his dad’s dad, he farms,
And farming is a dangerous existence.
Too early and you’re ruined,
Too late and it’s no good;
Too long and it’s a battle just
To see it all come out —
Too short and everything goes bad,
Too cold, too hot, too dry —
And years when it’s good everywhere,
His crops may not be worth the cost of labor.

Sarah Sipsey needs the sun.
She needs it right so she can paint:
She’s sold her paintings now for years, and
Gradually has brought them in some income.
Sun and clouds and grain —
The hills, the rivers and the lakes —
The flowers and the showers and the wind across the plain:
These are her subjects. But
Her buyers like the sunshine, like
The way the paintings sparkle with the light.
Her mama thought that she would be a baker
Passing on the family recipes,
But she picked up a brush one day and
Couldn’t put it down. She’d rather paint
A wider range of subjects, but the buyers
Up in Hunstville only want “the sunny ones”.

The Sipsey farm is hard to find,
Not even GPS can quite tell where
The road is to the road that meets the drive.
But over at the Quinton Chapel, A.M.E.,
You’ll find them both,
On Sundays with their family and friends.
That building’s very old: there is no heat
Or air, but there is life, and life they celebrate.
And on the drive back home, they sit in silence, sometimes,
One prays for clouds, and one for sun,
Their two hands intertwined,
While ways away, in Huntsville,
A business conference is being held:
Check-ins by a bright painting of wheat fields,
And sushi later will be downed thoughtlessly
With soy sauce brewed locally