Before I leave, let me linger
in these mountains,
worn down as ground teeth.
Let me knit myself to these forests,
green lakes swollen with ice melt —
earth’s fevered sweat and tears.
On Walnut Street Bridge, mist
rises as ghost-wolves
haunt the Tennessee hills.
And a heron flies low over the river,
brushing his blurred image
with outspread wings.
Two men were lynched on this bridge,
and the spirit in my skin is bloodied
by rage, then purified by grief.
Down the river, thousands more
were thrown from their homes,
leaving the land uprooted
and my own roots
Their swinging bodies sing to us —
voices shimmering in air —
a hallowedness imperiled
until we listen,
Under the leaves’ anointing hands,
I lift my face to catch rain
on my forehead, stretch out my arms
to meet the green fingers of the world.
It’s been more than forty days
without human touch.
Instead, I caress moonfaced clematis
and white pansies. Rub my hands
into soft stars that release milky scent
in the tangled branches
under the greenway. Press my palms
into willow oaks, the satin hide
of crepe myrtles, the white birch
which shed their bark again and again.
Before I leave, I want the folk songs
that echo the Appalachians
to tell me the secret of their undying.
I want wild blackberries to stain
my teeth and the skill of wise women
who know that fire, water, earth, and air
arise from spirit, and return there.
Leaning against the fence that divides
this world from the next,
blue winds hollow me out,
and old gravestones grow moss
and say nothing.