Down Sugar Mill Road
August, the air unmoving,
thick as a lover’s held breath.
Afternoons stretch out forever.
Pelicans and herons
drag languid shadows
over the backs of cottonmouths
as graveyard crows wrestle
brushing a white crypt.
I’m lost in a fix of cut-rate gin.
The late sun bursts in the final pane
of a dead paper mill.
A woman opens a screen door,
steps inside a house. The light
above her drifts through a vacant field.
Camden Road, South of Santee
Hitchhiking all day with no luck, I took sleep
by a rusted pickup in the yard of a darkened house
overgrown with trumpet vines
and dusk, a fifth of Four Roses in my pocket.
Traffic that refused my thumb still dinned my ears.
My hat clung to my temples, my overcoat
to sandy earth and switchgrass.
I stunk as if I’d herded cattle to slaughter pens.
Wind came on quietly. Like the stranger
who quickened from the house in bare feet.
She tore her gaze away from mine,
tried not to step where the ground hurts.
West of Rolling Fork
Off Mississippi Highway 14
Late day, and the foreman
cuts us loose. Wind stiffens,
cools graders and backhoes
we leave behind at the bayou cutoff.
I flee to a bar beneath
a falling winter sun.
Neon shivers like candleflame.
Rare thin snow whispers its way
to the rooftop. Tobacco
smoke and the musk
of damp bodies crowd
the wind-shot doorway.
On a corner stool
I seek my solitude,
hope my face draws a blank
from all, a story unread.
Shots of rye rattle my skull
like dice in a gambler’s cup.
Through the window,
I fix on the parking lot,
shed the darkness.
One drinker, as wordless as I,
slips away without a ride.
She takes foot down an unlit road.
-from Gone This Long, Mainstreet Rag (2019)
JEFFREY ALFIER won the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection, Idyll for a Vanishing River. He is also author of The Wolf Yearling, The Storm Petrel, and The Red Stag at Carrbridge (forthcoming). Recent publication credits include Southern Poetry Review, Hotel Amerika, and Poetry Ireland Review. He has a master’s degree in Humanities, but he doesn’t do shit with it.