1. The Sound of Roots
We come from the mountains, we have wolf
in our blood, we have pinebarb. It is our cabinteeth,
we have shotguncousins and dirtdress babies
and when they holler pitchblack in the woods, their maws
are filled with broken knuckles. There are Mason rings
in their molars. We have sold our teeth for tar.
There is a snaggletooth in my eardrum. It belongs
to my greatgreatgrandmothers, who mixed scratch
with driedblood blessings and tried to stick
Eucharists to the ribs of their floursack children.
This is why we all grew up plump, this is why
I vomit out back behind the shed — so my mother
can remember the birchbranch ribs of her baby sister
who too often got caught in her father’s beartrap
teeth, his flyhook hands. Seventeen years before
she would beartrap a bullet into her clutteredcabin throat.
I’m sorry, mama, but some of her teeth
got splintered into the walls of my room,
they are the bones in my ears.
I used to believe my musclememory
was learned through this gracelaced hammer,
all mine, each curse a carving in my bedposts.
But even this bed is hers and my armored shoulders
have hung in our women’s closets for centuries, twitching
at the slamming of doors. They are quilts lain over
loveletterless chests and beaten in the winter to release
the dust, then draped over our daughters as if to bury
them in mountain snow.
But we are not as clean as moonshine.
When the folks in town spit our name,
it is a tooth punched from their gums by whispers.
Gapped sneers are clan insignia of riflerousers
drinking to the impact of recoil and the cum of myths.
So our fence is bricked with canines and we pierce
our daughters’ ears with incisors. Only the wolfboys come
howling. Out back behind the cabin’s neck, there is a plot
of gunpowder earth and like damning a newborn’s name
into our family bible, we are each to lay a tooth into a time capsule.
Words of a Brier-Switch Man, Elbow-Deep in a Busted Old Soda Machine1
Morganton, North Carolina, 2010
Jes lak a woh-man. Takes n it don’t give nuthin’ bek.
Cain’t take a joke no more huh missy?
All y’all wimin cain’t take a joke these days.
Betchya don’t want me to hold this door for ya neither huh?
Bet I know sumthin’ ya would lak me to hold.
Naw baby I’m jes playin’ witchya.
Don’t you pay me no mind.
I jes ain’t seen nobody as purty as you since mama gone home with the Lord.
1 The Anthropologist, on the Brier-Switch Man
Down the long dirt road is a Christmas tree stand, then just leaves and the farm supply store, full of empty metal space and the smell of horses. The kind of place where the lighting is always right, but for what. It is best to leave as soon as possible. The machine is the faded red only found in towns where the reconstruction didn’t catch on, some confederate ghost still trying at passion. Anything left in it is sticky dust in Mountain-Mist cans, thinned enough to bend under fingers. The man digging up into it is rangy, missing teeth, and ruddied cheeks show under a set-in grime that makes his face look like a rag that’s blackened no matter the washes. I wonder what he is thirsty for. If his nails or the machine or his ideology are dirtier. Who owns the dirt, owned it first. When he speaks, my canary murmurs but does not sing. I am heavy from the soft violences handed to me by men who were born weapons and have rusted. This one sees me and mistakes me for the machine. There is some old red in me that stirs the iron in his mouth. Like a good dog with rabies, he is dangerous. So is empathy. The pines stand sentinel, but for whom. They can’t speak up, they lean away, cast shade over the road.
Since the startle-shaped animals no longer pass
in front of my car in the only light for miles,
since I don’t drive through back roads anymore,
since I forgot the sasquatch mystery
of the creature who ran through my headlights
and I no longer search for it or try to name it,
my skin no longer smells like stars,
is not so bright with lake water.
In the back porch of my eye the animal
moved. There was a pink and green moth
that rested on the wood of the kitchen in days
and came to crawl between my fingers by flashlight
in the nights. I was never scared I would hurt it.
With sticks I moved the body of the porcupine
from the road where it looked like it was resting.
A whole half of it was unspoiled but it fell away
from itself when I lifted it. There are graveyards
alongside the smallest, most isolated roads there.
It has been years since I buried a bottle in the woods
beside that homemade cemetery.
It has been years since I retrieved it.