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James Allen Hall

James Allen Hall is the author of Now You’re the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008). He teaches at Washington College and lives in Kennedyville, Maryland.

By This Poet

4

Pittsburgh

I burn your Highland Park. I acid your Carnegie
car dealerships. Your Squirrel Hill, sheer terror
in winter. But most of all, I hate your Liberty Avenue,
the last place, one night, I saw my closest friend
saying, Wait here, outside the after-hours club. I wait,
hating your Strip, half your Shadyside, all of Bloomfield,
the bluffs and flats where my friend trades himself.
I wait hours, then trace your Mexican War
Streets looking for his car, so I could declare a truce
in the battle he was fighting against himself. Your Hot
Metal, your Fort Pitt Bridge that leads headfirst
into the Monongahela. In the morning, he's home.
He cannot tell me where it hurts. I help him shower
off the Duquesne residue, the priesting old world
shame. Pittsburgh, you're all grit and gristle turning crystal
track marks, turning a man meth mouth. I feed him,
put him to bed. I'll keep watch tonight in a cable car
ascending Mt. Washington, your smokestacks
blowing clouds over the confluence until all you are,
Pittsburgh, is a sleepless shimmer I will watch
diminish down to the savaged seed of morning,
as impossible to watch as you are to name.

A Home in the Country

Down on Comegys Road, two miles
from the Rifle Club that meets Wednesdays,
summer to fall, firing into a blackness
they call night but I know is a body,
in unpaved Kennedyville, not far
from the Bight, on five acres of green
organic farm, next to the algaed pond
that yields the best fishing in all of Kent County
(my neighbor says it is a lingering death I deal
the trout when he sees me throw the small
bodies back), down where the commonest
cars are tractors and hayfetchers, and men
wave as they pass, briefly bowing a gentleman’s
straw hat, you can find the wood cabin
where I live, infested with stink bugs. 
Every day, my boyfriend asks the murder count,
making light of my hatred. Even reading I sit,
swatter poised on the couch’s arm,
all the windows closed, fans off, the whole house
listening for the thwat of stink alighting
smartly on sun-warmed glass, their soft-backed
geometric carapaces calling to be stopped. 
I did not grow up like this, here
on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but I am most
at home now I live with something inside to kill. 

Out from the Patches of Briars and Blackberries

After he died, my father made
whole, I could see him next
to my mother as she smoked
on the couch, his face more alive
than at Christmas, the last time
I saw him, struggling to lift his cup. 
I knew beyond my body, now he’d died,
he could show off a row of teeth, wry
and silly, smiling again to score
some irony in the situation. But
the days I was home, he didn’t smile. 
My mother was in pain, he was her
source, he grieved alongside her. 
And though he died the same day
as my father, my student waited a week
to show. At first, his back was all
he’d allow, the twist and sweep of curls
that were his character—another boy
Apollo would have loved. He was shy
about his neck. I said please, I needed
to see where he’d been hurt. The purple
pinched and dug at the base
of his throat. He couldn’t say or breathe
what happened but I saw deep in him
the furious glimmer. Our dead return,
wanting us to know there is no end. 

Even suffering outlives this body.