“This face reflected back is not me…”

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Chicken Train

Chicken train running all day …

Chicken train take your chickens away

—Ozark Mountain Daredevils

Helena, I cross your bridge
where you wait, but not a soul
welcomes my return
to feel again the sting of your loss.

You know best how I waver
and amble in your heat, slow up
in your streets, a stranger
peeking through cupped hands
into empty storefronts, foraging
the vacant lots for what’s in the veins.

Here it’s early morning, forty years ago.
I’m looking up to my cousin Dennis,
who’s come in early to open
Uncle Jake’s store and start the coffee,
when the whole place buckles
into glass, plaster and bricks. Nothing but
grass now, where the dust settled to rubble,
where I pause to study my shoes.

chicken train take your chickens away

This face reflected back
from the ticket booth
window of the Malco Cinema
on Cherry Street is not me.
There’s not enough
hair, the face could smile
more, could slip
into sweat and song, funk
it up with mouth bow and harp,

chicken train
runnin’ all day
chicken train
runnin’ all day

to name what the naked eye can’t see —
Momma’s an Avon Lady all made up
to deliver Wild Country in collectible decanters,
Daddy’s at Dominick’s with Ernest,
bent over a chili cheeseburger —
young and making it,
enough history
here to be haunted
by a mop hung out to dry
on a backyard clothesline.

laser beam in my dream
. . . like a sawed-off dream

Scatter-shot in the gut, trying
to name names and place faces —
nowhere to be found
the streetlight that spring night where
at thirteen I came this close
to kissing Belinda Crawford,
the Rex Motel Café where
I fed the pinball machine
my lunch money while
waiting on the school bus.

can’t get on
can’t get off

Helena, who knew
the ’70s would be your heyday?
Even then, you bored me inside
to Hai Karate cologne and Kung Fu,
air-conditioned, highball games of Risk.

chicken train take your chickens away

I had not yet
heard your song.

Not even the tangled sway
and squander of your kudzu
cascade could stop the erosion
of Crowley’s Ridge, its locomotive
sprawl harangues the singular crease
you ride into the Mississippi, sets
me to supposing: these draped
trees and cliffs . . . a wedding
party, a feast of vows,
. . . or maybe pretty ponies?

can’t get on
can’t get off

Where your bluffs take me in,
here where there I go again,
into all that climbs, coils,
and ravages the untended.
Tendrils rise a foot a day
to baptize Confederate gravestones,
dogwoods, the red-rusted plow,
all borne home verdant
by spine greening out into the blues.

Helena, how far to come to here?
Back to flounce and peck
along your levee. The moon low
over the wide river
spells the one place:
I know exactly where I am,
now walking deserted rails,
now on Cherry again, cradled
where dreams bud and beam
me back buck-buck-buckAWKing —
a prodigal chicken
in your arms tonight.
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This is the title poem from Terry Minchow-Proffitt’s collected works, Chicken Train: Poems from the Arkansas Delta (Middle Island Press). Individual works have appeared or are forthcoming in such magazines and journals as Arkansas Review, Big Muddy, Christian Century, Oxford American, and Prick of the Spindle.
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The author and editors wish to thank the Ozark Mountain Daredevils for their gracious permission to quote from the song “Chicken Train.”

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Cover photo by Chad Hunt. Featured photo by Wikimedia.

 

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