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Christopher Martin

A Privy on the Appalachian Trail

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No amount of Imodium I carried
kept the curse from moving.
Call it Still Life with Giardia:
An image of a young man
hunched on a rickety toilet seat
mounted to an unroofed platform
in the southwest Virginia woods,
his Wal-Mart raincoat absorbing
sleet and rain like soil and duff
soaks up the diseased compost
he passes to the pit below.

Exposed, he shakes, bent
like the wild turkey he sees
brooding over loam in the cove,
early Appalachian spring dyed
silver by such weather, not a thing
untouched—red oaks, laurel, ferns,
polyester, toilet paper, human legs—
all of it sodden in the haze shrouding
the slopes of Hurricane Mountain.

Was it by some romance he drank
unfiltered creek water back in Georgia
when he started on the Trail, the same romance
by which I remember the icy cove silver?
It will pass, this romance, pass with the cold,
pass with the shit that has by now turned
to earth, earth that I, too, soon will be,
earth the young man I remember already is.

My Old Man Turns Off Lithium

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I only saw him on weekends then,
so maybe it was more about creating
silence so we could talk, father
to thirteen-year-old son.

He tolerated my music well enough,
though I don't think he understood this song
was less about loud noise and more
a testament to the ache always
lodged in my jaw, always
just shy of expression.

But that day, he might've been listening,
might've actually caught the lyrics—
whether it was the I'm so horny
or the I killed you, I'm not gonna crack
that pushed him to the edge,
made him cut the dial, I don't know.

Or maybe, since we were headed to church
when the song came on 99x,
it was the Sunday morning
is everyday for all I care
that was the last straw.

Whatever it was, when we arrived
and he told me to tuck in my shirt
before we entered the sanctuary,
I think we both must have sensed
truth in the words that had been sung
and remained
snagged in our silence.

My Daughter Laughs in Her Sleep

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Near midnight, I sit at the computer
waiting for clothes to finish drying,
skimming an article on the 10 proven ways
I might curb my depression, expecting nothing
but the normal procession of today to tomorrow:
I will fold the clothes, unplug cords,
cut the lights, lock the doors,
resisting the urge to check every closet,
to look beneath the couch, within each cabinet,
any place someone intent on harm might be hiding—
a secret bedtime routine of my childhood.

Over the dryer's thump, heat pumping against
a 20-degree night, wind rushing the vinyl siding,
I hear my daughter react to some vision,
giggle like she does when we play,
two-year-old girl who was not long ago
resisting sleep, as I at times resist waking.

Let me believe in whatever it was she just saw,
in whatever it was that danced through her mind
and she found to be funny, whatever jest,
whatever joy, dwells in her dreams,
whatever it is I so often forget
though it abides in darkness
just the other side of the wall.

The Fox

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Urocyon cinereoargenteus

I have seen more dead in my life than alive,
each lifeless body flung to some roadside,
the casualties of big rigs and minivans,
a progress nearly unbridled
in the burning of distance and time.

This one lies like so many of the others:
its gray coat gore-flecked, oil-matted,
line of grimaced mouth seeping blood,
a carcass broken, contorted, attracting
scavengers to the shoulder of Highway 15.

As I pass, crows hop from asphalt and gravel,
hover to low branches shadowing
a historical sign for Jefferson Davis,
marking his flight through middle Georgia
after Richmond fell, this the last place
he camped before his capture in Irwinville.

East of the highway, cow pastures unfold,
darken beneath a massing storm, wind
rushing through the early succession
of broomsedge covering fields left fallow.
To the west, just beyond the dead fox, woods
shelter ghosts of a dissolved government
encamped in exile beneath the leaf mold.

Log trucks, loaded with pines, lug weight
of new plantations, barrel south as I drive
the other way through Warthen, headed
for Siloam, the interstate, Atlanta, home.

In the side-view mirror, drizzle obscuring
the reflection of what is past, I watch
as crows regroup to forage strewn entrails,
transfigure the fox within their own bodies,
bear its life elsewhere, like some prayer
that what has fallen here may never rise.

Incarnation on the Fall Line Highway

The four-lane from Davisboro to Wrens consumes
land of the elderly and the dead, people born here,
raised among these fields, pastures, their homes
now crumbling, steps from the roadside,
built before there was ever a need to do 65.

Growling with freight, this highway
brings Atlanta to the coastal plain,
resurrects Rome, sieves slash pine
monocultures bordered by ditches
filled with fragments of Western civilization,
cryptic inscriptions on plastic wrappers,
aluminum cans faded in sunlight,
messages void of meaning.

In such a ditch, a fox squirrel springs,
exile of razed old growth, pitch black as the sky
over Bethlehem in the reign of Caesar Augustus
the night the star appeared.

As darkness overcomes the short winter day,
I stop for gas at the Jet, a holy light
shining on Jesus, angels, shepherds,
animals beholding him in adoration,
the weary world rejoicing in a picture
above the gas pump, an image
framed in a plastic ad for cigarettes
so it seems the manger light emerges
from the surgeon general's warning
in the upper right hand corner.

I return the pump beneath the ox stall
bearing the Christ child like a nest
somewhere among ruins of woods
bears the black squirrel.

You Have Turned My Mourning into Dancing

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Exhausted, we enter the door; Welcome to Stevie B's,
a teenage girl murmurs as we step to the register,
put two adult buffets on debit, our two children,
both under three, on the house—the reason we are here.
The errand to print marital counseling papers—
88 pages between us both, questions we are to answer
alone, not discuss until the therapist has analyzed the results—
left us wanting something fast, something overflowing
with calories enough to drown our worry.
Comfort, then—that and free food for our children,
which for our daughter means plain noodles, shredded cheese,
sliced black olives from the salad bar,
and, for our son, a saturnalia of melted mozzarella,
pepperoni burnt at the edges, puddled with grease,
all scraped off each slice, swallowed with almost no chewing.

Ammonia drifts from the restrooms; game machines chime,
illuminate a back corner with pink and yellow strobes.
Between sips of Mountain Dew, I watch other tired parents
eat with their children, bribe them with tokens for games,
as my own crawl under the table,
back and forth between their mother and me.

They settle in her lap; her face troubled from recent tears,
she shares with them bites of her s'mores pizza
which they smack, smear on their shirts.
The girl who took our order refills a crouton bucket
at the end of the buffet, dancing
to a pop song that blares overhead.

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