North Carolina Psalm

by Rob Shapiro

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 ReviewMichigan Quarterly ReviewRiver StyxBlackbird, and The Greensboro Review. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.