I am an optimist, linguist, and singer with a mammoth memory for minutiae. My collection World Class: Poems Inspired by the ESL Classroom (Apprentice House 2014) is based on my experiences teaching English to adult immigrants at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Other poetry and prose drawing on spirituality, feminism, travel, and childhood appear domestically and abroad in such journals as The Delmarva Review, Kestrel, Kansas City Voices, and Angle.
The “Just Because” Road Trip
Though we were Yankees who disdained country music,
though we avoided fried food,
though we’d never met a Southerner
who sounded smart upon first meeting,
we wanted an adventure somewhere
unknown as the Underground Railroad,
somewhere far from home.
So we followed the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as we could go.
Because night fell in Virginia
by a lake where dogwoods bloomed
like confetti, we met a kid in cammo
who shared his fishing secret: WD-40.
Because radio reception was spotty,
we bought bluegrass CDs
and played air mandolin
all the way to the Smokies.
Because we took back roads sculpted with kudzu,
we found a drive-in where a tottering couple
brought chocolate malts on car trays
for a dollar fifty apiece – same as when
they’d hung up their skates forty years before.
We slurped by a gabbling stream
that smelled of susurrant pines,
screeching jays our only distraction.
And because we had no reservations,
we stopped at an instrument shop
where we bought a hammered dulcimer
we never did learn to play well.
Then on to Cherokee where the only good food
was at the Casino, a five-star Southern place
where we gorged on hush puppies, crayfish, collards,
fried green tomatoes. And man, it was good!
Mother Nature served up a thunderstorm
outside our window for dessert.
Since the gaming rooms were one floor down,
we went in to look around,
and found on the psycho carpet
a poker chip worth twenty-five bucks
which we fed to the nickel slots
till we won back the price of our meal.
Then we left the smoky sequins and bells
like a trashy film we wished we hadn’t seen.
Then because the Reservation was there,
we took a tour with a guide
who looked just like my mother
when she was young and lovely.
She’d always thought these were her people,
and now there could be no doubt.
And because we asked so many questions,
our tour guide took us backstage
for a sneak peek at real Res life
where we came on a box of puppies
left at the foot of a dumpster,
one blindly sniffing her way
to the scent of rotting food.
And that’s how we got Brave Girl,
our most faithful pet.
Because we were having such fun,
we aimed for that Old Man River
via Nashville and Memphis honky-tonks,
even though we like wine, not beer.
So we tried bourbon and ginger,
caught a Johnny Cash tribute show
with a guy who sang Johnny and June,
and sounded like both of them!
Johnny Cash, who our parents had called
that one-note jailbird bum,
and it was like hearing poetry
for the very first time.
Since we went to the Soul Museum,
we lost ourselves in old hits
whose roots we never knew,
took in an exhibition
on lunch counter sit-ins,
and finally understood what happened
to our country when we were little white kids
in little white northern towns.
And since we were time travelers now,
we visited a faded homestead
where we dallied in the cool spring house,
alert to the crunch of gravel that signaled approaching strangers.
We felt like Huck and Jim drifting with the current
since we never knew what was round the next bend.
And I’d say we should do it again,
except that we never can.
-first appeared in Steam Ticket.
©2016 J.C. Elkin