arriving

By RON WHITEHEAD

POETRY SEMIFINALIST

not many deer crossed the road back then
but life was wild i remember the call

october 1959 i was nearly 9 mama was
in the house on the phone i could hear her

crying moaning talking i was standing behind
the barn it was hotter than hot i started praying

for granddaddy to live to be all right i was just
a boy but granddaddy was special to me real

special he was wild like the deer that appeared
and vanished when granddaddy drove 90 miles

per hour on highway 261 between fordsville
and hardinsburg heading from centertown to

valley station going home me riding shotgun
windows down flying on old kentucky country

backroads so many times granddaddy stopped
at the little mcquady grocery near rough river to get me

soda crackers and ginger ale cause back then
i got car sick but granddaddy only laughed and

smiling talked to me like i was real and not just
a kid i remember a 6 pack of beer on the floor

in the back and a pint of whiskey in the glove box
granddaddy was real when he breathed

the earth breathed he moved things he was
a grader operator building the watterson

expressway around louisville he was a barber
he cut hair he made records he traveled and

sang on radio stations and at concerts he
yodeled he cleared the land the rundown

farm he bought that had belonged to his
mom and dad my greatgrandparents render

he went fox and coon hunting with his friends
in the middle of the night always drinking

whiskey and telling stories that made the men
laugh i know cause i went with him whenever

i was allowed granddaddy didn’t preach but
his life was a sermon he was spirit holy spirit

no matter what anyone says so i drive fast
with the windows down and i don’t wear a seat belt

and i’m taking a hard curve with the long wind
and the tall green trees and the turquoise sky

and the energy comes to me and it fills me and
i feel what granddaddy felt the energy of life of sex

of love of family of longing and i smile and i cry
on this hot august morn and i know that somehow

granddaddy’s spirit is still here with me and my
head and my body want to explode but i hold

on to the wheel with all my might moving from
day into night and back to light finally finally

arriving

 

Ron Whitehead is a poet, writer, editor, publisher, organizer, scholar, and professor. He grew up on a farm in Kentucky and attended the University of Louisville and Oxford University. He is the recipient of numerous state, national, and international awards and prizes, including The All Kentucky Poetry Prize, The Joshua B. Everett Oxford Scholar Award, English Speaking Union Oxford Scholarship, and The Yeats Club of Oxford’s Prize for Poetry. Whitehead’s works have been published internationally in a diverse range of publications from Northwestern University’s Triquarterly to the Czech Republic’s Artforum to Japan’s Blue Beat Jacket to England’s Beat Scene to Louisana’s Southern Review and New York City’s Tribe magazine.


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