If These Roads Could Talk

How many memories — of our collisions, our missions, our disappearances — lie embedded in the black tar of Southern two-lanes?

Highway 57 (to Vancleave)

Don’t ask what stories I can tell. To me
your news is an oilslick drying in the sun:
I eat light when the deer pass under
your mother’s headlights, spit it out three
hours later when the sirens arrive.
Then it’s back to silence: lustrous, clear,
until the moon unveils the shaded air
and the cicadas burn with desire — tonight
desire echoes back, hovering above the black
like fresh mist after rain, off roads named
after children, after whiskey and shame.
So don’t come asking down this tarmac —
I took your parents first, for all to see.
Next I’ll write your truck onto a tree.

Highway 19 (from Philadelphia)

The only way you saw my name was in reverse —
not my number, mind you, pilgrim, but
my name. Given to me years ago, after what
happened when late one night the hungry earth
opened its mouth and swallowed those three
young men. Their names would become my own,
etched on a sign on the opposite lane
you had to read backwards, as you sought to flee
this dead and dying town. Strange, is it not,
how little of my former life I can recall —
such as whether the soil beneath me was always
this shade of red, as the dozers lower their jaws
to kiss me now so level, so smooth, so flat.
Perhaps you can ask that mirror on your wall.

Highway 29 North (from Ellisville)

Some days, I am almost sorry that they laid
me down: the sunlight caressing the waves
of field grasses, the endless breeze that gives
more of itself with every hour, the late
evening sigh of the treetops as they bend
and stretch to catch the dusk — upland, I rise
and rise into beauty without rest. The sky
above is a bowl that no human hand
can fill — so why, traveler, do you slow to take
its measure? This grass, these silvered lakes
will outlast us all. The psalms along my shoulder
will tell you what the heavens claim to declare —
but here on earth there is no glory other
than the scent of fresh uncut lavender in the air.


About the author

A native of Mississippi, Benjamin Morris is the author of one book of nonfiction and two prior books of poetry, most recently Ecotone (Antenna/Press Street Press, 2017). His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Lithub, andThe Southern Review, and received fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission and Tulane University. He lives in New Orleans, where he serves as a coordinator for the New Orleans Poetry Festival.

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