North Carolina Psalm


Unhinge my jaw so I might sound like I was raised here: among the copperheads and tobacco fields, the families of deer bathed in drifts of red dust rearing, in warm spits of rain. You keep the summers long, the sweat on my neck. Let the sun stray behind your steep bluffs as Orion’s belt fastens the night sky together; let your tireless arms carry the Lumbee who was shot in the head and found bobbing downstream. To free the fishhook from the dog’s jowl is to find your blood dried on the barb. Show me your teeth, show me where your billy clubs left bruises and your unmarked graves open, where my mother was born and baptized. Tell me, am I still a Yankee in your eyes? I have caught your catfish and dug up your clay; I have learned your history, reconstruction. My mother’s blood in my blood, and what does that make me? Your magnolias refuse to bend for light and your tar-heeled troops were struck dead for the south— you plant sir and ma’am in mouths and wait for hurricanes to strip you down in surrender: dark waves tumbling in, gutting homes, burying us beneath the tide-line. Do you wake up early, do you guide the plow? Are your hands like mine, callused from hauling stones and chopping oak, from labor that works lines across the landscape of your boundless palms? Tell me how you tear steam up off my shoulders, how you stuck that call in the cardinal’s throat.

ROB SHAPIRO is an MFA candidate at the University of Virginia where he was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, River Styx, Blackbird, and The Greensboro Review. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.