My South

by Wendy Carlisle

On the left, the Atchafalaya, that black, that burnt inside,
silent as a pot. Down there, our lips equal silt and common bliss.
Down there, we carry our graves, folded
in our pockets, a hard-cardboard hunger, a box and shards.
The woman beside me in the food stamp line has a skintight skirt,
an underground man. Down south, we have the right
to costumes and secrets, to gossip and lowdown.
Down south, we observe the bendable rules that stand in for bone.
Below Missouri, we have a chicory bias. Low blues and Jolie Blonde
are the national anthem. Down there, I learned
acoustics from Professor Longhair, religion
from the Mardi Gras Gods, patience in February’s saxophone wind.
Like Buckwheat Zydeco and the Meters,
I can adjust my heartbeat to the length of the tune. Despite the hunter
I am the snake half of the gator. Despite the facts of jazz,
I’m as romantic as a bad house band—
I still think of salvation every time I come.
Sugar cane, Night Train, soufflé, etouffé, the key

to certain muddy silence is under my tongue.
Where your world gapes open, darling,’ I shiver in.

Wendy Carlisle is the author of Reading Berryman To The Dog (Jacaranda Press, 2000), Several of these poems are from an unpublished collection entitled “Decocted Life.” She lives in Texarkana, TX. “My South” first appeared in Three Candles