Under Peabody Mountain

by J. Robert Shull

We heard the train at night come close enough to jump;
we knew the state road rolls all the way
to the city. We dug in, built our homes
here where the houses go in a spiral down the hollow
like water the bath drain draws.
Work pulls us down
to a place so deep roots refuse to grow.
When the veins have given out
we’ll ask for more, and when it’s all worked out
we’ll move on. When there’s no place left to move
we’ll drop the shovel and pick, follow the track
first by feel, then by the thin glint
off its edge, then squint a bit and stumble
into the white. We’ll take a deep breath,
walk the dirt road home
in a confusion of dust and dandelion,
and say to our wives, “It’s done,
we’ll let the UMW provide.”
What days are left we might rock away
on the front porch, wait for grandchildren,
listen to the radio, and forget
until we cough
and it tastes like coal. Maybe, we’ll say,
turning our heads away to spit,
whoever preached the homily
didn’t know how true:
home is the land that becomes part of you.

A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, J. Robert Shull works for a nonprofit children’s advocacy center in New York City. He holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Stanford University. This publication is his first.