“Georgia on My Mind” and Other Poems
Five Southern poems that smell like honeysuckle, mountain laurel, moss and tomatoes.
Georgia on My Mind
I mouth these sounds: Hiawassee, Chattahoochee, Tallulah Falls,
Antioch Add Dahlonega, Senoia, Unicoi. Stir in sweet gum,
camellia, cherokee rose. Breathe in magnolia, honeysuckle. Meditate
Antioch on Antioch and Bethsaida, cemeteries where ancestors sleep.
Grandma rakes graves, arrange aucuba in sturdy urns.
I name childhood teachers, Nellie Bean (who was mean), Edith Ruff
Antioch (who was gentle), Miss Jetta Dowis. I see the old granite church.
Rock of Ages. Baptismal waters close over me. When I rise, sodden
Antioch Choir robe hangs heavy. Just As I Am Without One Plea.
I dream the dust of bicycle tires. See sisters and cousins. Baskets
Antioch cradle Mason jars with juice and hold peanut butter sandwiches.
We pedal a route then safe for children, now an interstate. I see horses,
Antioch smell saddle and bridle, recall the leap from hay loft to land
on sweet straw. Recollect the scolding for scattering horses’ feed.
I haunt red brick: College Street School, Hapeville Post Office, our bungalow.
Antioch Picture Grandma’s frame Victorian around the corner, wisteria arbor
on one side, fish pond on the other. Out back a headless chicken hangs
Antioch by its feet, later plucked at kitchen table. Half a block away, the bakery,
Chocolate eclairs, Cokes in six-ounce bottles.
I remember bus rides downtown to Atlanta. Buying shoes at Thompson, Boland, Lee,
Antioch sliding feet into Flouroscope, boney toes revealed. Lunch at S&W. Rich’s bridge
spans Forsyth Street. Car trips. Daddy drives, his baritone belts Chattanooga Choo
Antioch Choo, croons Carolina In The Morning, boom Caissons Rolling Along.
Mama’s peach ice cream. Sprayberry’s barbeque. Varsity hot dogs.
I picture mimosa blossom powder puffs. Persimmons rot on hot sidewalks. I hear
Antioch the whirr of a June bug tethered to silk thread. Chigger bites. Pal, the three-
legged dog next door. Outdoor play at dusk. Red Rover. Simon Says. Lightning bugs
Antioch blink. Parents sit on porch steps, their cigarettes glow red. Soft voices murmur
A New Year’s Walk Around Lake Mayer
A cormorant suns in a laurel, wings spread
like pannier skirts in a Velasquez portrait,
neck graceful as any Spanish lady’s,
a fish held tight in its long curved bill.
A squadron of keen-eyed pelicans spot
supper beneath the water, circles, dives.
Two men, fishing poles shouldered,
scurry to follow.
An anhinga perches on a stump,
neck stretched, dry wings folded
against its svelte torso, displays
feathers arranged like piano keys.
A Busy Intersection in Savannah
At the corner of Skidaway
Antioch and Eisenhower, a flock
Antioch Antioch of ordinary pigeons
congregates on a utility wire
Antioch black silhouettes
Antioch Antioch against the sky.
At what must be the faintest
Antioch of signals, they rise and fly
Antioch Antioch to land on the car wash
across the street, swing from wash to wire
Antioch and back, gliding like a company
of dancers obeying a master choreographer
Antioch or a congregation of believers moving
Antioch Antioch from pew to altar.
Along the Laurel River Trail in January
We hike a path slick with recent rain.
On one side, the river runs and tumbles,
swirls its rocky bed. Opposite, a steep slope
teems green with ferns and moss, flows
wet with waterfalls. Trees, branches
bare of leaves, trunks embroidered silver
with lichens, dot the banks, some straight,
others storm-bent in ungainly shapes.
Mid-stream a limbless trunk lies wedged
in the crannies of a boulder, flotsam
of a flood, we guess. A stone urn stands
in a hillside hollow, weather-roughened,
glazed with verdigris. A spout at its base spews water
from the stream above. We wonder why it’s there,
laugh when someone says: “It’s for the Methodists.
The Baptists get the river.” Five merganser ducks
frolic near the far shore. The males’ bodies flash
whiter than well-bleached laundry, contrast
Their shiny black backs. With their red-headed
girlfriends, they fight their way upstream,
glide down, twirl and pivot in eddies,
do it all again.
Small as peas, they grew wild
in the Andes.
Aztecs cultivated, cross bred, cooked
them into sauces.
Conquistadors came hungry
sailed home with a pennyweight
of tiny seeds.
In Spain, botanist, Mattioli christened a new “eggplant,”
Pomi d’oro, “golden apples.”
The fruit traveled to England, even Asia, before
diarist Salmon found shoots in South Carolina
where later my father relished homegrown
ones with his breakfast grits,
but only at seasons peak, not, he swore,
when they tasted of cardboard.
My mother topped plates of fried sweet corn
with thick red slices of savory goodness.
For me, they are best with bacon and lettuce
in the trinitarian BLT.