December 21, 2019

“American Child” – A Poem by M. Sullivan

“American Child” – A Poem by M. Sullivan




I’ve walked along the maps of my home 
around the bends of the Housatonic River 
and up Mount Greylock
hanging over Jamaica Plain 
     I’ve run my fingers over the shores of Nantucket 
and felt the Mystic
and run my gaze over Watatic
the high Wachusett 
and felt the rumble of the Mattapan line
and wandered the streets of Swampscott 
and of Chappaquiddick 
     I remember the first bus I took to school 
named the Cummaquid Chief and 
how I thought as 
I shook afraid that
the bus would be driven by a head-
dressed brown-
skinned face-
painted man with leather moccasins
and fierce gaze 
     the names meant nothing to me 
no     near mountain no
great cove     nothing that
lay in the midst of waters nor 
far off among the waves
there was no     place I seek no place 
of red rocks
no     beyond the mountain place 
     mere sounds just flicks
of the tongue odder 
lip movements unlike the other 
words I knew 
     but quiet kept
hear no one
see no one
there must be somewhere 
     so I left I drove in my dad’s old Cadillac 
south looking for a sound a sight
south where I found Manhattan
south again more south 
where I found the Potomac
farther and farther south
but I found only Conshohoken and those same familiarly 
unfamiliar sounds with the clicks
on my tongue and the ck ck ck
stuck at the back of my throat 
     I kept on and turned west
and in Tennessee I found
blues musicians shifting through
smoky dens of tall hats wailing
harmonicas sighing guitars with
horses’ clip clops outside on the pavement
that covers the dirt and people shuffled from 
scene to scene drinking and cheering 
in the dirty city with the highway that cuts 
through like a snake 
treading on 
     farther west out
to the gate in Missouri where I passed through 
seduced by promises of future
just to go west more
and more westward
and I passed into the
giant white wind farms of Kansas
onward still to the great sands of Colorado 
where the land looked misplaced apocryphal 
erected in error: 
aureate peaks 
startopped
gilded spires:
the cenotaph of America 
     onward still keeping onward 
to find Utah 
and its deserts
beautiful barren land
where the rock balanced teetering 
precarious     there—
unsure which way to fall
unaware it somehow matters
its fringes frayed by wind
nearing the severing point
spine about to collapse toppling 
with it an uncared for history 
     and here where
Butch buried his gold lumps
in the vast red dust canyon walls
where storms have poured over hat brims wet 
horse flesh down to pools of rust colored mud
where bonewhite veins of lightning flash
cross and envious thunder chases
the gleams in swarming echoes
building up legends as they swarm. 
     and there—down among the sandstone 
cliffs hidden in a copper and white
reef of land a 
river carving a 
narrow valley 
desert orchards flower
where apples grow pears
grow and walnuts and cherries
peaches apricots almonds and mulberries plums
nectarines grapes pecans and a strange thing
called quince with its pale pink blossoms
delicate and fine against the brown rocky mountains 
     the old school house is still there
next to the stand that sells pies and cider and coffee 
and I could lie under the trees with a book in my lap
smoking tobacco eating orchard fruits
the boughs casting calming
shades across my face 
cutting through the Indian summer heat
and fall asleep peacefully
there so serene and seemingly somehow no one 
about to disturb me. 
     and onward I went
to hot dry Nevada where the roads
leave long straight black scars behind
on the yellow face of the land
and the air becomes visible
quivering in the distance
and eventually I reached the other side where 
the red bridge is tall over the other waters
and I wondered what
the name might be for     place of the red bridge 
     and I looked at the bridge
and thought I was supposed to think of death 
     there was nothing but to turn around
though I could be satisfied with
the bridge: an iron feat
painted red 
and the wind farms blistering white spinning gently 
and the corn rows
sweeping through Iowa
and the towers towering in Chicago 
high over the streets
and the factory graveyards in Detroit 
where my dad’s old Cadillac was
made and where once all Cadillacs and 
Pontiacs and Chevrolets were made
and the wheel I turned
onto and off of highways that stretched 
and reached across the landscape
to and from every corner
that I grew up calling my own
with its unsurpassable beauty
the roar of Niagara the crests
of the Appalachian Mountains the burnt 
sands of the Moab the forests
of Acadia the valley
at Cuyahoga the badlands
of the Dakotas the frost
of Syracuse the rains
of Pensacola the swamps
of Atchafalaya
—enviable beauty
—desirable 
a bad curse 

***

M. Sullivan lives in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in PANK Magazine. This is M. Sullivan’s first appearance in the Fictional Café

The Fictional Cafe
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