a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
I. The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 Half the population gone in ten days the blue rise of bluff between river and new land is a sky protecting us from flood but doesn’t contain anything but the dead leaving us Here we learn devastation is quick prevention a farce we spend our lives constructing It’s a lie on the same lips as Be careful Our beloveds step into work boots turn back to look at us from the porch steps we just swept Our babies rock in bassinets at arm’s reach Everyone can fever and go on from you The Mississippi doesn’t forget that feeling of heat like water craving most what’s yours II. The Lorraine Motel Sometimes a balcony heralds a voice like a bullet. Sometimes a sound carries over and through. Easier to hear, closer to God, easier to aim. The day before, King had said, “The movement will either begin or end in Memphis.” Other famous men pointed to where they heard the shot, away from a preacher and his maker. They are still pointing. Our greatest leader fell. Riots are but a collective death rattle. When I tell people where I’m from, no one remembers that the murderer wasn’t from here, that Memphis is the city that holds his last breath. III. Isaac Hayes’s Cadillac Eldorado at STAX Records slow spin set doors open under stage lights rooftop glory every picture a tourist takes is a Vatican postcard sky paint ascension in leather fur 24 karat gold windshield wipers and rims may the soulmen in their tight pants and sunglasses greet every Memphian from the clouds from a heaven of jewelry dance sweat hair grease and alcohol skin sound like This car This car Take me tonight in this car IV. We Can Watch the Songbirds on the Wires by Our Garage Let me hear you say alluvial plain. Let’s aim to wash the mud from our mouths, unquicken. Kiss where we come from. Say ramification. Say others. Say homeland. The back molars need the deepest fillings— feel best on the tongue. In this town, we can’t count all the songbirds. If we cross the street to avoid the homeless man, we’ll miss them. Voice is the first instrument, but they miss the other bodies of pedal, string, and key. Don’t trill or tweet. Say aquifer, say best water. Without these bluffs, the Mississippi would kill us. The ground an elevator in a sky that pleads not to flood. Songbirds never die: Elvis, Isaac, DiAnne, Chilton, B.B., Dunn. They stay sober now, get more attention, their images all over the airport. Still, they miss our words. The living mouth.
Heather Dobbins has been awarded scholarships and fellowships to Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Vermont Studio Center, and The Virginia Center for Creative Arts—France. Her poems and reviews have been published in The Pinch, The Raleigh Review, The Rumpus, The Southern Poetry Anthology (Tennessee), and Women’s Studies Quarterly, among others. Her first book of poems is In the Low Houses (Kelsay Press 2014). Her second collection, River Mouth, is forthcoming in September 2017. A flatlander native of Memphis, she recently moved to the hills of Fort Smith, Arkansas. For more information, visit heatherdobbins.net.