What It’s Like to Live Here

Veteran South Carolina poet Ray McManus, the winner of the 2023 Governor’s Award for the Arts, writes beautifully about rural life—from boar hogs to pickup trucks to the hunger that won’t go away.


To be in the middle
is to be nowhere at all.
That’s what our reflections tell us. 

Never mind shadows.
They will only damn us,
make us believe we are
known by the sun. 

That’s what it’s like to live here.
Always stepping back.
Always feeling the ground
for whatever flies
out the backs of pickup trucks,
leaving what’s ours to die for.

And not to get too lost
in the metaphor, we sift here.
We pick and pull our way
through junkyards and imagine
a history that isn’t broken down
to the spare change we spend at the beach.
We don’t even see the sunset. 

This is a nation that doesn’t want us
to stand here with our shovels.
This is an ocean spitting out
pieces of its heart on broken glass.
And when we’re not looking,
it will take back everything it can.
The dunes tell us so. 

And for all our chatter of who we are
and why we’re here, the ocean whispers,
look behind you,
look behind you, it’s all behind you,
because like the sun,
the ocean doesn’t know us,
doesn’t owe us a goddamned thing,
because that’s what we are—a goddamned thing. 


for Davfor David

If you don’t kill, you don’t fill.

If the skin splits, it won’t hold
the animal’s fits in us or together.

If you cut too deep, all that a body keeps close 
will spoil what it spills over—
ask men like Merle, ask the open mouth
how the dead build cities
to be part of the living again. 

If one is God, then the other is the tree.
If one is gone, then the other is going away. 

If the urge is to cut loose,
then what comes from the gut,
what makes a hand curl and ache to keep it together, 
is the line that holds us,
and the rest is just the weight of this world
as it slips through and tumbles over.

If one is the arm, then the other is the hatchet.
If one is the table, then the other lies across it.

If there is no limit to what a man will eat
because hunger can’t help itself,
because muscle,
because teeth,
because the peel,
the chomp,
the chew,
the relief,
then let the mouth free
what the stomach can’t take. 

If one is the end, then the other is beginning.


There can be only two
reasons to cut a hog:
behavior and taste. 

Boars bite. Boars shove.
Boars jump on other pigs. 

Boar taint is a stale urine
you can taste. Barrows
just carry better meat.
They get fat in the mud,
stay calm without guilt.

That’s what forgiveness tastes like,
sweet without even trying,
like that first communion,
like that last supper. 


About the author

Ray McManus is the author of five collections of poetry: The Last Saturday in America (Hub City Press, 2024), the 2015 Independent Publishers Book Award-winning Punch (Hub City, 2014),  Red Dirt Jesus (Marick Press, 2011), Left Behind (Stepping Stones Press, 2008), and ­­Driving Through the Country Before You Are Born(USC Press, 2007). His poems and prose have appeared in many journals and anthologies.

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