After my night job, I sat in class and ate, every thirteen minutes, an orange peanut—butter cracker. Bright grease adorned my notes. At noon I rushed to my day job and pushed a broom enough to keep the boss calm if not happy. In a hiding place, walled off by bolts of calico and serge, I read my masters and copied Donne, Marlowe, Dickinson, and Frost, scrawling the words I envied, so my hand could move as theirs had moved and learn outside of logic how the masters wrote. But why? Words would never heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, blah, blah, blah. Why couldn't I be practical, Dad asked, and study law— or take a single business class? I stewed on what and why till driving into work one day, a burger on my thigh and a sweating Coke between my knees, I yelled, "Because I want to!"— pained—thrilled!—as I looked down from somewhere in the blue and saw beneath my chastened gaze another slack romantic chasing his heart like an unleashed dog chasing a pickup truck. And then I spilled my Coke. In sugar I sat and fought a smirk. I could see my new life clear before me. lt looked the same. Like work.
Home (from Court Square Fountain— where affluent ghosts still importune a taciturn slave to entertain them with a slow barbarous tune in his auctioned baritone— to Hank Williams' headstone atop a skeleton loose in a pristine white suit and bearing a pristine white bible, to the black bloodstain on Martin King's torn white shirt and Jim Clark's baton, which smashed black skulls to gelatin) was home, at fifteen: brimstone on Sunday morning, badminton hot afternoons, and brimstone again that night. Often, as the preacher flailed the lectern, the free grace I couldn't sustain past lunch led to clandestine speculation. Skeleton and flesh, bone and protein hold—or is it detain?— my soul. Was my hometown Montgomery's molten sunlight or the internal nocturne of my unformed soul? Was I torn from time or was time torn from me? Turn on byzantine turn, I entertain possibilities still, and overturn most. It's routine now to call a hometown a steppingstone— and a greased, uncertain, aleatory stone at that. Metaphors attune our ears to steppingstone, as well a corner-, grind-, and millstone— all obtain and all also cartoon history, which like a piston, struck hard and often that blood-dappled town scrubbed with the acetone of American inattention. Atone me no atoning. We know the tune and as we sing it, we attain a slow, wanton, and puritan grace, grace can't contain.