Jake Adam York

CROSSROADS


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Not the Britney Spears movie, but The Crossroads. The categorical Intersection. Where Tommy Johnson sold his soul to the devil down in the Mississippi Delta way way back. Where Robert Johnson waited for the Dark Lord of the Guitar sometime later.

In West African and Caribbean lore, the crossroads is an intersection of dimensions as well as of roads, a place where the world of the dead and the world of the living have contact. The governing spirit is Legba, the guardian of doorways and mirrors, of all crossings, a trickster deity whose function is to interpret communication between humans and the other gods.

You’ll find Papa Legba at any threshold.

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When I was very young, my grandmother would come in her mother's white 1961 Cadillac to take me home from school. In the back, my great-grandmother and I would stick to the clear vinyl covering the white vinyl upholstery.

We’d drive to the Big Chief, the local drive-in diner at the crossroads of Air Depot Road and US 431, and order french fries.

That is, I would order french fries.

My grandmother would ask my great-grandmother, every day, whether she wanted anything, and my great-grandmother would always say no. But when the fries came, she was the first to draw one from its hot cradle.

When I’d remind her she hadn’t wanted any, she’d say, “I didn’t.”

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Now almost every crossroads is crossed with gas stations and fast food joints, so much noise the actual crossing of paths seems an occasion for other occasions.

Fuel and fuel.

Look again.



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According to Willie Cole:

In all Yoruba-based ceremonies, Elegba is greeted first because it is he who stands at the crossroads between man and spirit (horse and rider). Until the civil rights movement, lawn jockey statues were placed outside of homes, usually near the front door, or at the crossroads of the driveway and street. They were often painted red, black and white (the colors of Elegba) and held in the hand either a ring for hitching horses or a lantern for showing the way.

(source)

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In 1819, President Monroe gave the Cahawba site to the new Alabamians for their capitol, and within a year, the town was thriving. But the site had a reputation for flooding, and in 1826, various powers moved the state capitol to Tuscaloosa. Within weeks Cahawba was near abandoned.

Years later, it was the site of a Confederate prison, and after the war, the town became a gathering place for freemen and was supposedly home for more than 70 former slave families. But by the turn of the twentieth century, the site was completely abandoned.

Now, the town is: oak trees thick with Spanish moss, a brick chimney from the prison, a rough-hewn stone that marks the site of the capitol, three brick columns which belonged to one of the more opulent houses, the empty streets.

Clay and clay, crossed and crossed and crossed.


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… you bring the item you wish to master — your banjo, guitar, fiddle, deck of cards, or dice — and wait at the crossroads on three or nine specified nights or mornings …

(source)

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For twenty-five years, I’ve watched kudzu engulf a wash off Green Valley Road.

Actually, I can’t remember when it wasn’t covered over, when you could tell the trees from the leaves.

Summers, the kudzu fingers the road and is worn back by tire after tire.

But you can still see where the trees used to be. Cylinders of vine rising above the static of the field. New surface on the old topography.

On the old that never fades away.

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ope \ōp\ verb, open (archaic, 15th c)

rest \rest\ noun, … restored to vigour or strength. rare
verb, … to recover one’s strength

restaurant … [French, from the present participle restaurer to restore, from Latin restaurare] …


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Amazing what remains. Absences as well.

At the Big Chief drive in, at the crossroads of Air Depot Road and US 431 in Glencoe, Alabama, the sign is missing one of its original arrows, the crossbar upon which my father supposedly sat through a sundown, despite attempts to coax him down.

The nickel-head Indian head, below which I ate with my great-grandmother, the daughter of a Cherokee woman, still catches sun.

And what crosses such remain.

And the flashing arrow which does not flash reads “Try Our Salads” where there were no salads, where no one wanted one.

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A field of leaves growing over.
Become the shadow of all it shadows.

Cross over, cross back.
Power, somewhere in between.

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Jake Adam York is the poetry editor of storySouth.