Commonplace
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www.common-place.org · vol. 11 · no. 2 · January 2011
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Poetic Research Department

Statement of Poetic Research


Richard Greenfield
Duck River Latitudes

Mile 98
087° 5’ 13” W

McEwen Bridge: washed away in the 1948 flood: two opposing pilings now
Old Gordon’s Ferry Bridge: built 1896, washed away in the 1902 flood
Gordon’s Chickasaw Ferry: had a handcrank
Natchez Trace ford: crossable in the dry season

  black-blue-blush
the fisher otter drops
splashless beneath it
  (into the floodflow)
morning light rumours
  in the hornbeams
so then too greeny
  blowsy-breasted wood-pewees
    fleshing air
nests lichen
grass and
  spider silk
    the river
crested 5:47 am

seeped into the local
    blazed fields
  there were no more
birds than usual I think
  the day the bright lazy day
river 9.7 feet too high
  saucebottle floated by
        errant
  the farmhands building a wall of sand
near the thin bottomless keelboat
    on the shore in the evening
    limping by into aftermath
    (there for 100 years)
skip to the torrential humid
  twilight skip to the dumbfounded
night skip to the viperish
  starfall turned in the sky
crickets laughed with throbbing
hum cicada the smirking
  syncopation between the two
the farmhands had built a pyre
    burned the keelboat
I’m in with the flames now
and the loss I should have walked
  there into their bustling bag—
    filling
      and said stop
the farmhands had raving
  eyes of undertakers whose
fingerbones had already broken
instead
  slept to the spill
  downstreaming into the Tennessee
see less than
ten, no see
even less stars through the leaves
  the sophist tuliptree
drooping into floriferous crowblack
  sleep—
  eyes in a gooseleafed bed
seesawing while they burned
  more wood and in the barn
horses haunched in their stalls
        

Mile 99
087° 15’ 51” W

End of Shelby Bend/Old Church’s Bend

  and I went
sucking into the patchwork
    birds, crested while they
sung in the beeches
    hung over the river
no one remembers
  the rationale of the names
  of these places, I was finally
    in the sun-honeyed detour
  of the last twenty miles of history
    on the aerial map
faint wagon tracks
    ended at the shores
  shores. What can be said
about this analogy? I see
  the cobble of my life
    versus
the loud welcome of the future?
  I want to ping solemnly into
the sixpenny leaves
  with the northern flickers
unable to dust out the mites?

this is the sum—
at the known sturgeon hole
  dropping bait
into a black green window
into the current
  where you reflected
a combination of happy and sad
    returned
  sublime is
a delicately braided explanation
      in the genes
to tackle it
  to demand more from it
be the outsider
  you needed to un-bend
  a bethlehem cloud formed far away (thunder behind its threat)
your stomach was speaking its own needs
  you wanted to slay every impulse
    you hesitated
      you insisted


this is the sum

you could not pull
from the hole
ancient & bottomfeeder
  & bony plates & scutes
& spaded snout to stir up silt
  & barbells
  roe on a plate
& isinglass in a bottle
  & oil burning in the
steamboat

—you packed it up you figured (the disclosure) was the effort after the experience the eastern shadows along the banks


the distant smoke venting from a smokehouse on Good Samaritan Ridge you saw Church Bluff

turning throne-gold that evening Hicks Bluff purpling you saw straight whispy lines in the sky


lancing like every pink cardinal you enforced it: no shoals at mile ninety-nine—


 

Mile 100
87° 42’ 30” W

Rough shoals

Remains of an incomplete lock built by the Duck River Slack-Water Navigation Company, which sought to “mortgage upon the works of the Company— upon the negroes now owned, and upon those it designs purchasing with the larger portion of funds arising from the sale of the Bonds. It will, if desired, stipulate in the mortgage, when the work is completed, to sell the negroes, under the supervision of an Agent ... and with the proceeds buy up the same amount of Bonds loaned it, and deliver them to be cancelled; until which time the State shall retain her lien on the Works, Stock and Negroes of the Company, which now owns, and has engaged on the works, eighty-two able-bodied negro men, together with four women, cooks.”

Rock wall (2’ high) no record

Was this an operation?
so stacked the rocks
like a child, that sort of
unskill,

it looked
without exactness,
without purpose.
Balancing had swerved.

Another kind of beauty
was master here, slave
breath burning back over.
At the sight of it
my fortunes orbited or twisted,
devaluing. The master would

drive a whale into a brook
and not say sorry.

Fatigue mattered
over fidelity—

wall

was cipher.

Site of McGraw’s Ferry; no record other than named on map

 

 


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