December 21, 2019

“American Child” – A Poem by M. Sullivan

“American Child” – A Poem by M. Sullivan
I 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
     the names meant nothing to me  
no   near mountain no 
great cove   nothing
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 different licks odder  
lip movements unlike the other  
words I knew 
It was not until I was older  
that anyone  
bothered to mention these are not  
English words.  
     O I said   
     but quiet kept 
I hear no one
and see no one 
they 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 
South again farther and farther
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  
     so I kept on and turned West 
and in Tennessee I found 
blues musicians shifting through 
smoky dens of tall hats wailing 
harmonicas sighing guitars 
horses’ clip clops outside on the 
that covers the dirt and people shuffled from  
scene to scene drinking and cheering  
in the dirty city with the highway that cuts  
right through like a snake  
treading on  
     more west from there out to
the gate in Missouri where I passed through  
seduced by promises of future 
just to go west 
and more westward 
and then I passed into the
giant white wind farms of Kansas 
and onward 
still to the great sands of Colorado  
where the land looked misplaced apocryphal  
erected in error:  
aureate peaks  
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 westward 
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 I thought I was supposed to think of death  
glancing a sign and assuming 
that no good comes from dialing phones 
and speaking to faceless 
unmet voices whose 
metallic and tinny speeches 
crackling from somewhere over some distance  
drip into some ear and 
are received without expectation  
     there was nothing but to turn around 
and 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 
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 
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
#language#maps#Native American#poetry

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