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Shacks on Highway 231, Along the High Red Clay Embankments

By Bonnie Roberts

These words are for those who never wrote a word,
or sang a song,
or thought a great thought,
or invented something,
or made something lasting.
These words are for those who lived
extraordinary non-extraordinary lives,
of getting up each day,
and walking through the day,
kicking at dirt clods,
or staring at trees,
or whittling a branch they finally
threw away
and going to bed every night
with the hope of something better
or maybe
without any hope at all.
These words are for those who simply lived,
whose lives are the poetry of existence
better than I can ever write
in my desire to leave something lasting,
in my desire to be remembered.

The old black men in felt hats
who played plastic checkers and waited in line
for the rubbery welfare cheese
that was really quite good, yellow and salty,
the oily peanut butter stuck
in their kinky-pure cotton stalk beards.
Or the hook-nosed old maid waitress
who worked at the same burger grill
for thirty-five years.
Her black hair greasy and flattened beneath her cap,
she felt safe in sameness
and air-conditioned coolness,
her snowflake fingerprints melting away on the
stainless counter.
Or the woman who tried to show her breasts to girls
in the concrete bathroom at the county fair.
Or the fat man who collected Coke bottles and was run
down by a train.
Or the dirty girl in orange polyester shorts who
disappeared from her yard
two hours after she painted her toenails pink.
Or the husband and wife who never spoke of love
but made love in the dark.
Or the failed auto mechanic who spit tobacco juice
in his dead grandma’s withered face.
Or the young man with the cleft palate who longed to
be a preacher.
Or the boy who washed his face with plain soap and
water every morning,
at exactly the same time, and went to bed, by the sun,
every day.

They have all been forgotten.
More dead than dead.
But, here, their houses remain,
shadowing, overpowering any words,
these unwritten poems falling down
into artistic ruins
that belong in history books,
in song books,
because trees grow around these houses,
encircling the meaning of their inhabitants’ lives,
singing in leaves, little twigs, and crooked stems
in the green whistlings of unnoticed people, birds,
and red summer dust,
and rivers full of paint rock run past the houses,
washing and coloring their lives clean of emptiness or
pain or sin or want,
and the sky covers their remains with the deep blue
of the universe
and marks, inhales into its eternal mouth,
these perfect
perfect lives.

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