Alabama

 

You say that name over and again and my ears perk up.

It’s always the one

whose curves and straights look dirt road red

to me as you breathe it into a muddied existence,

the word whose sound

I can’t shake, the noise crawling across my skin

four snaking syllables hiding in the vegetable garden.

It turns the air red,

you can see it when you say it,

hanging on one letter and dropping to the floor

Alabama

It would sound foreign if it I did not know it from birth,

if it was not bred into my body and brewed

into my brain like apple pie moonshine.

You can’t help but sound Southern.

The name has meaning in some native tongue—Choctaw—

we so effectively cut out

the one maybe my great great great great great

grandmother spoke before she married a white man.

Yours maybe did too.

Here it means nothing sacred, nothing pure, nothing

holy, nothing useful, here the phonemes roll out thick

and slow and hot like spilt gravy.

Here it means something down home something

muggy something loud something desolate

and almost empty at the edges

something loose you’d like to tie up something

sharp and hard and a little too inescapable

something red and red and red.

The meaning is effective here. You pull it into

your jokes. You strangle it with your opinions.

You don’t let it breathe

and it threatens to die in your mouth.

Photograph by Lauren Smothers

Claire Hancock is a pretty new poet from an itty bitty town in North Alabama called Scottsboro, but unless you lose your luggage or avidly study US history, you won't know where that is. She writes a lot, maybe too much, about the spot "where the mountains meet the lakes" and the so-close-knit-it's-suffocating society that grows there like kudzu. More recently, inspiration from the Mississippi Delta has struck her. You can find her scribbling about the places she's been, splitting time as unevenly as possible between Alabama and Memphis, and walking around in the woods talking to herself. 

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