Driving the highway from Atlanta to Phoenix
means swapping one type of heat for another.
A bead of sweat rolls over my chest,
around my belly and evaporates
so quickly I forget I’m sweating.
Body chemistry changes like the color
of my skin: from yellow to sienna.
My sister says, it’s a dry heat.
At dusk, lightning storms over the mesas.
Violets and grays lie down together.
Mountains are the color of father’s hands,
layers of dark—then light.
People move west to die, retire in a life
of dust, trade the pollen of the south
for a thin coat of grit, the Arizona desert—
We stop on the outskirts of town
and think about being reborn.
When he places his mouth near my mouth
because he’s so obviously thirsty,
when he moves to the well
where my tongue spouts out
because we’re mostly made of water
two-thirds of me is certain:
este infierno vale la pena.
This hell is worth the risk.
Copyright © 2015 by Sjohnna McCray. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“My partner and I have been together for seventeen years and in retrospect, before gay marriage was legal, our commitment was sealed when we decided to move across the country—to the desert. The poem attempts to address how external shifts in landscape can transform and reflect what’s going on internally.”
Sjohnna McCray was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 7, 1972. He studied at Ohio University and earned an MFA from the University of Virginia where he was a Hoyns Fellow. McCray also received an MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
His poetry collection, Rapture, was selected by Tracy K. Smith as the winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and will be published by Graywolf Press in 2016.
About Rapture, Smith writes, “These poems are so beautifully crafted, so courageous in their truth-telling, and so full of what I like to think of as lyrical wisdom—the visceral revelations that only music, gesture and image, working together, can impart—that not only did they stop me in my tracks as a judge, but they changed me as a person. Sjohnna McCray’s is an ecstatic and original voice, and he lends it to family, history, race and desire in ways that are healing and enlarging. Rapture announces a prodigious talent and a huge human heart.”
McCray’s poems have been published in numerous journals, including Chicago Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and The Southern Review.
His honors include the AWP Intro Journal Award, Ohio University’s Emerson Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize nomination. In addition to poetry, he has published essays on race, mental illness, and homosexuality in various journals.
McCray has taught in New York City, Phoenix, and Chicago. He currently lives in Savannah, Georgia, where he teaches in the English department at Savannah State University.
Date Published: 2015-10-05
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/i-do