by Nathan W. Friedman
“It’s hard to tell, it’s hard to tell,
when all your love’s in vain.”
In the Lyceum, behind whitewashed,
Ionic columns, summer so thick
that lecturers remove their coats and shout
over cicadas, it is understood:
thousands of square and savage miles, layers
of black and virgin loam, wilderness like
that of the Hebrews, of hardwood swamp,
of Indian, dollar-sized mosquito, black bear,
wolf, and only sweat of oxen, negro, and
one’s own to forge a landscape fit
for cultivation. And in the autumn,
when the heat gives way
to sharp cold that makes livestock whine,
a simple cabin might be built
suitable to support a wife.
The cotton boll against the treeline is
so much whiter than a woman’s skin,
so much more white than sweetmilk, than
thunderheads meandering, and when
many seasons have passed, these might be built:
a great-house and brick homes for laborers.
At night, exhausted, the negroes moan
through the humid passage of generations
like corroding headstones behind chain-link fence,
choked by deep-root, Asian, weeds,
and sheetrock neighborhoods.
So these songs of their abounding pain –
that made dogs sit, yellow eyes cognizant
only that the minor keys they heard were things
holy because they silenced owls –
play on dashboard-radios, immortality,
the land’s only glory that remains.
Nate graduated from VCU in 2010 with a degree in English, and is currently an MFA candidate at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His poetry and criticism have appeared online and in print in Bayou, Crab Orchard Review, Rattle, and storySouth.