Robin York © 2007 All Rights Reserved
Seasons in South Memphis
The floods are a bloom of stagnant water, heavy stink
of wisteria. Men gather at the corner of Tchulahoma
and Raines. They smoke, shift on their feet, wonder
if they’ll find work in the soybeans this spring.
Summer fires through the air, and a young girl
rides the 61 bus up from some muddy Delta town.
This is the city, blazing Memphis, and come sunset
she’ll whisper through the shadows of the street.
Al culls slow sellers at the Discount Liquor
in September. He grabs a bottle by its dusty
neck, pulls hard, and tosses the rest out back,
shattered glass like a slick of diamonds.
The lunatics line up outside the old public library,
their beards heavy with last night’s freeze. The city
passed an ordinance years back, but it’s cold—stone
and sky the same incessant gray—and no one cares.
December in Sunflower, Mississippi
Nebraska wind cursed
the herons south. Night scatters
from the busted corners of the Sunflower Gin.
The old man outside Lewis’s Grocery shuts
his eyes to the smoke of his cigarette
and a blood sun.
They dredge bodies of cousins gone to Chicago
from the river. Winter roses
stagger in the wind.
Someone set fire to the old gin, and you wake
to a river of ash.
You don’t know this
place—the far, trembling
fields, the dark trees.
Even when leaves lie thick
and rotting in the streets, you never see
past the edge of town. Cypress are the worst,
tangled and low.
Leaves bleed in the ditches,
herons fly farther south.
And last week, beneath the stone
bridge, two boys,
the oldest just ten, beat another boy
near dead. All three boys
were black. I curse rivers
and trees. It’s freezing. Those roses
This fall Joe Wilkins will be joining the creative writing faculty of Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. His work has been previously published, or is forthcoming, in the Georgia Review, the Missouri Review, Tar River Poetry, Pleiades, and Best New Poets 2006, among other literary journals.
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