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Cherrylog Road -- James Dickey

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1193) Cherrylog Road
 Off Highway 106
 At Cherrylog Road I entered
 The '34 Ford without wheels,
 Smothered in kudzu,
 With a seat pulled out to run
 Corn whiskey down from the hills,

 And then from the other side
 Crept into an Essex
 With a rumble seat of red leather
 And then out again, aboard
 A blue Chevrolet, releasing
 The rust from its other color,

 Reared up on three building blocks.
 None had the same body heat;
 I changed with them inward, toward
 The weedy heart of the junkyard,
 For I knew that Doris Holbrook
 Would escape from her father at noon

 And would come from the farm
 To seek parts owned by the sun
 Among the abandoned chassis,
 Sitting in each in turn
 As I did, leaning forward
 As in a wild stock-car race

 In the parking lot of the dead.
 Time after time, I climbed in
 And outthe other side, like
 An envoy or movie star
 Met at the station by crickets.
 A radiator cap raised its head,

 Become a real toad or a kingsnake
 As I neared the hub of the yard,
 Passing through many states,
 Many lives, to reach
 Some grandmother's long Pierce-Arrow
 Sending platters of blindness forth

 From its nickel hubcaps
 And spilling its tender upholstery
 On sleepy roaches,
 The glass panel in between
 Lady and colored driver
 Not all the way broken out,

 The back-seat phone
 Still on its hook.
 I got in as though to exclaim,
 "Let us go to the orphan asylum,
 John; I have some old toys
 For children who say their prayers."

 I popped with sweat as I thought
 I heard Doris Holbrook scrape
 Like a mouse in the southern-state sun
 That was eating the paint in blisters
 >>From a hundred car tops and hoods.
 She was tapping like code,

 Loosening the screws,
 Carrying off headlights,
 Sparkplugs, bumpers,
 Cracked mirrors and gear-knobs,
 Getting ready, already,
 To go back with something to show

 Other than her lips' new trembling
 I would hold to me soon, soon
 Where I sat in the ripped back seat
 Talking over the interphone,
 Praying for Doris Holbrook
 To come from her father's farm

 And to get back there
 With no trace of me on her face
 To be seen by her red-haired father
 Who would change, in the squalling barn,
 Her back's pale skin with a strop,
 Then lay for me

 In a bootlegger's roasting car
 With a sting-triggered 12-guage shotgun
 To blast the breath from the air.
 Not cut by the jagged windshields,
 Through the acres of wrecks she came
 With a wrench in her hand,

 Through dust where the blacksnake dies
 Of boredom, and the beetle knows
 The compost has no more life.
 Someone's outside would have seen
 The oldest car's door inexplicably
 Close from within:

 I held her and held her and held her,
 Convoyed at terrific speed
 By the stalled, dreaming traffic around us,
 So the blacksnake, stiff
 With inaction, curved back
 Into life, and hunted the mouse

 With deadly overexcitement,
 The beetles reclaimed their field
 As we clung, glued together
 With the hooks of the seat springs
 Working through to catch us red-handed
 Amidst the gray breathless batting

 That burst from the seat at our backs.
 We left by separate doors
 Into the changed, other bodies
 Of cars, she down Cherrylog Road
 And I to my motorcycle
 Parked like the soul of the junkyard

 Restored, a bicycle fleshed
 With power, and tore off
 Up Highway 106, continually
 Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
 Wringing the handlebar for speed,
 Wild to be wreckage forever.
-- James Dickey
I was talking to Thomas Lux, a poet in residence at Tech, about James
Dickey the other day, when he mentioned this poem to me. He called it
memorable and solidly rooted in the South. But what he didn't say was
how powerful and vivid this poem was, I had to find that out for myself.
And what I haven't been able to get out of my head, ever since I read
this poem, are the lines at the closing:

        "Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
        Wringing the handlebar for speed,
        Wild to be wreckage forever."

These alone are worth reading this poem, the power those lines evoke/
invoke! I have felt these emotions many times, when I wrung "the
handlebar for speed, wild to be wreckage forever"!

Also since a recent theme has been poetry and movies, James Dickey apart
from being a powerful poet, wrote the novel Deliverance. It was on
this book, the smash movie Deliverance was based. Infact he figures in
the movie as the sheriff towards the closing, which I think is pretty
unusual, instead of a poem in a movie, it's a poet in a movie.

The movie is worth watching too, if only to see that jam/duel of a
guitar and a banjo. And since I have hiked along the river(Chattooga
River in Georgia) on which it is set, I could experience first hand the
wildness Dickey managed to capture in his work.

So be sure to watch this movie too!




Listen to Sheep Child, another powerful poem here:

A very extensive special at NYT. Be sure to read Barnstorming for Poetry.

Finally, a sometimes painful memoir, one of the best I think that can be
ever written by a son about his father, that first lead me to James
Dickey, Summer of Deliverance:

- Sashi

122 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Deepak Srinivasan said...

Such a wonderful way of describing some of the pieces and parts that make up the heart of this country. running liquor, automobiles, the open road, the graveyard - elements that evoke a sense of danger, freedom and finally as Sashi so nicely points out
"Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
Wringing the handlebar for speed,
Wild to be wreckage forever."

Srinivasan Deepak said...

not sure if you got the comments i posted to you.... so here goes

Such a wonderful way of describing some of the pieces and parts that
make up the heart of this country. running liquor, automobiles, the open
road, the graveyard - elements that evoke a sense of danger, freedom and
finally as Sashi so nicely points out

"Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
Wringing the handlebar for speed,
Wild to be wreckage forever."

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