The first settlers to the area called the Lumber River Drowning Creek. The river got its name for its dark, swift-moving waters. In 1809, the North Carolina state legislature changed the name of Drowning Creek to the Lumber River. The headwaters are still referred to as Drowning Creek.
Three p.m. on a Sunday.
Anxiously hungry, I stay dry, out of the pool’s cold water,
taking the light, dripping into my pages.
A city with a white face blank as a bust
peers over my shoulder.
Wildflowers on the roads. Planes circle from west,
come down steeply and out of sight.
A pinkness rises in my breast and arms:
wet as the drowned, my eyes sting with sweat.
Over the useless chimneys a bank of cloud piles up.
There is something terrible in the sky, but it keeps breaking.
Another is dead. Fentanyl. Sister of a friend, rarely seen.
A hand reaches everywhere to pass over eyes and mouths.
A glowing wound opens in heaven.
A mirror out of doors draws a gyre of oak seeds no one watches,
in the clear pool now sunless and black as a cypress swamp.
Bitter water freezes the muscles and I am far from shore.
I paddle in the shallows, near the wooden jail.
The water reflects a taut rope,
feet hanging in the breeze singing mercy
at the site of the last public hanging in the state.
A part-white fugitive with an extorted confession,
loved by the poor, dumb enough to get himself captured,
lonely on this side of authority: a world he has never lived in
foisting itself on the world he has -
only now, to steal his drunken life, then gone again.
1871 - Henderson Oxendine, one of the notorious gang of outlaws who for some time have infested Robeson County, N. C., committing ****** and robbery, and otherwise setting defiance to the laws, was hung at Lumberton, on Friday last in the presence of a large assemblage. His execution took place a very few days after his conviction, and his death occurred almost without a struggle.
Today, the town square collapses as if scorched
by the whiskey he drank that morning to still himself,
folds itself up like Amazing Grace is finished.
A plinth is laid
in the shadow of his feet, sticky with pine,
here where the water sickens with roots.
Where the canoe overturned. Where the broken oar floated and fell.
Where the snake lives, and teethes on bark,
waiting for another uncle.
Where the tobacco waves near drying barns rusted like horseshoes
and cotton studs the ground like the cropped hair of the buried.
Where schoolchildren take the afternoon
to trim the kudzu growing between the bodies of slaves.
Where appetite is met with flood and fat
and a clinic for the heart.
Where the boats took chips of tar to port, and money back
that no one ever saw.
Tar sticks the heel but isn’t courage.
Tar seals the hulls -
binds the planks -
builds the road.
Tar, fiery on the tongue, heavy as bad blood in the family -
dead to glue the dead together to secure the living.
Tar on the roofs, pouring heat.
Tar is a dark brown or black viscous liquid of hydrocarbons and free carbon,
obtained from a wide variety of organic materials
through destructive distillation.
Tar in the lungs will one day go as hard as a five-cent candy.
Liberty Food Mart
Cheapest Prices on Cigarettes
The white-bibbed slaughterhouse Hmong hunch down the steps
of an old school bus with no air conditioner,
rush into the cool of the supermarket.
They pick clean the vegetables, flee with woven bags bulging.
What were they promised?
And what did they receive?
Chickenshit on the wind; a dead river they can't understand
with a name it gained from killing.
A man was flung onto a fencepost and died in a front yard down the street.
A girl with a grudge in her eyes slipped a razorblade from her teeth and ended recess.
I once saw an Indian murdered for stealing a twelve-foot ladder.
The red line indicating heart disease grows higher and higher.
The red line indicating cardiovascular mortality grows higher and higher.
The red line indicating motor vehicle deaths grows higher and higher.
I burn with the desire to leave.
The stories make us full baskets of dark. No death troubles me.
Not the bored blood excited by opiates;
not the nighttime arson of the law;
not the smell of drywall as it rots,
or the door of the safe falling from its hinges,
the chassis of cars, airborne over the rise by the planetarium,
three classmates plunging wide-eyed in the river’s icy arc –
absent from prom, still struggling to free themselves from their seatbelts -
the gunsmoke at the home invasion,
the tenement bisected by flood,
the cattle lowing, gelded
by agriculture students on a field trip.
The air contains skin and mud.
The galvanized barns, long empty, cough up
their dust of rotten feed, dry tobacco.
Men kneel in the tilled rows,
to pick up nails off the ground
still splashed with the blood of their makers.
You Never Sausage a Place
(You’re Always a ****** at Pedro’s!)
South of the Border – Fireworks, Motel & Rides
Exit 9: 10mi.
Drunkards in Dickies will tell you the roads are straight enough
that the drive home will not bend away from them.
Look in the woods to see by lamplight
two girls filling each other's mouths with smoke.
Hear a friendly command:
boys loosening a tire, stuck in the gut of a dog.
Turn on the radio between towns of two thousand
and hear the tiny voice of an AM preacher,
sharing the airwaves of country dark
with some chords plucked from a guitar.
Taste this water thick with tannin
and tell me that trees do not feel pain.
I would be a mausoleum for these thousands
if I only had the room.
I sealed myself against the flood.
Bodies knock against my eaves:
a clutch of cats drowned in a crawlspace,
an old woman bereft with a vase of pennies,
her dead son in her living room costumed as the black Jesus,
the ***** oil of a Chinese restaurant
dancing on top of black water.
A flow gauge spins its tin wheel
endlessly above the bloated dead,
and I will pretend not to be sick at dinner.
Misery now, a struggle ahead for Robeson County after flooding from Hurricane Matthew
After years of things leaving Robeson County – manufacturing plants, jobs, payrolls, people – something finally came in, and what was it but more misery?
I said a prayer to the city:
make me a figure in a figure,
solvent, owed and owing.
Take my jute sacks of wristbones,
my sheaves and sheaves of fealty,
the smell of the forest from my feet.
Weigh me only by my purse.
A slim woman with a college degree,
a rented room without the black wings
of palmetto roaches fleeing the damp:
I saw the calm white towers and subscribed.
No ingrate, I saved a space for the lost.
They filled it once, twice, and kept on,
eating greasy flesh straight from the bone,
craning their heads to ask a prayer for them instead.
Downtown later in the easy dark,
three college boys in foam cowboy hats shout poor Spanish,
superficial drunks, their accents uncomplicated.
They press into the night and the night presses into them.
They will go home when they have to.
Under the bridge lit in violet,
a folding chair is draped in a ***** blanket.
A grubby pair of tennis shoes lay beneath, attached to nobody.
Iced tea soaks in a plastic cup. The traffic can be trusted.
I pass a bar lit like Christmas.
A mute and pretty face full of indoor light
makes a promise I see through a window.
I pay obscene rents to find out if it is true,
in this nation tied together with gallows-rope,
thumbing its codex of virtues.
Considering this just recently got rejected and I'm free to publish it, and also considering that the town this poem describes is subject once again to a deluge whose damage promises to be worse than before, it seemed like a suitable time to post it. If you've enjoyed it, please think about making a small donation to the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund at the URL below: