Names catch and hold-Caney Springs, Yell,
Belfast, Delina, Anes. Chanted by some side road
farmer they offer keys, a half-forgotten cult,
hidden among hills, circled round with walls
of limestone, forgotten tribute for some
squat deity of brush in a hillside devil’s den.
Church names sound the same, Bible mixing
old country~county names,
Head Springs, Bethberei, Gill’s Chapel-
once white churches forgotten down some lane,
destroyed with graves overgrown, yet
magic names still, deep in my county memory,
charmed as ghost-lights at Chapel Hill.
There was a time one year, late November,
a child among children with identities time lost,
I gathered hickory nuts, ankle-deep in gold
brown leaves behind an old road church
its frame silent one gray-cold Saturday.
In those woods there were thick, stiff grapevines,
bare and brown like webs in the trees
in the woods where we would not go.
And probably there were snakes, left from summer,
cold and still from the fall, hidden in rock slits,
waiting for children’s feet to step close.
And surely where were spirits, hanging like clouds
ceiling the day low and watching
our small-gloved hands
gathering nuts as we stayed anxiously back,
away from those woods There surely were spirits,
circling the church with the memory dark name.
Names a shorthand now, odd hieroglyphs
call up visions-Holt’s Corner, railroad tracks-
Farmington, ghosts from the gray blood-
Possum Trot, Christmas sparklers in a century farmhouse,
chanted slow the names could conjure vagrant souls,
devils or angels I will not guess which,
Perhaps only rough-handed farm people, wraiths
in duckhead overalls and gingham check.
Stamped as newsprint, the names echo magic for me,
miles from country churches now,
long years from the fall
of hickory nuts, wrist thick grapevines,
and low look of watchful clouds
that can haunt a child farther
and longer than any whisper from a rebel dead.
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