A Poem by Mark Neely

The South

There’s a giant map on my bedroom wall
where I pin yellow and red tacks
to show the lands I’ve conquered—the little towns
in Mexico, the grim airport of Dayton, Ohio . . . Geography
has been hard on me. I wanted to live
beneath a mountain, or in New York or London,
to spend time underground, but ended up
instead in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with only
a dusty closet to hide in during storms.

I learned the efficacy of an artful lie, and sat around
with lolling men in plastic chairs, watching the tomatoes grow,
bickering about such universal subjects
as football and the weather. Smoke poured from the rib joint
like a message and the fat man said,

I keep eating these they’ll never fit me in my morgue drawer.

The hickory and grease and vinegar was a miracle
with a sweating can of Miller. Some nights the rain
was warm as bathwater. Blood
crawled in my veins like poisoned roaches. And by God
it didn’t matter if your plane was bound
for the domes of heaven
or the steaming maw of hell,
you’d be stopping in Atlanta first.

“The South” appears in Mark’s second poetry collection, Dirty Bomb (Oberlin College Press). It’s republished here by permission of the author. Mark will be reading with the poet Lauren Goodwin Slaughter as a part of the Ron Casey Reading Series. The series was established at ASFA by a generous gift from the family and friends of Mr. Casey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and editorial page editor at the Birmingham News. Mr. Casey dedicated his life to using the written word to educate others and inspire a more humane, more critically aware society. The reading is free and open to the public. It will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 5, and it will be held in the ASFA Lecture Hall. A reception will follow.

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