The populist politico preached in black and white,
fist pounding air promises
out to every cowlicked, cracker-
fed chicken lover.
He boozed it down from Hicksville
straight to Podunk, spewing blaspheme
at the bourgeois, declaiming all powers, disclaiming
every fraud that crawled from lunatic to Christendom
and back, till by and by his sound truck stopped,
his sideshow gathered in some poor corner where
the only known-as-not-knowing pooled together,
listening, like oil awaiting flame.
The hillsides were slick with them, the lowlands
overfed with underclass, your coverall Bible
Belt hillbilly to your shoeless Catholic
cooneass, come to wait in dirt
and mud of rumored revelation,
come to hear the truth poured clean,
like Sunday sunlight
on pine church floors.
“Whole your parts—I’ll learn you—”
speakers blared distortion-garbled gist.
The women, sitting at the edges,
on the backs of trucks, on trailer hitches,
admired his distempered profile,
pouring fluent with gesticulation,
and the crowd could almost catch him
flaying open old hypocrisies with new,
between the meant-to-say and didn’t,
but then the whoall-whatall
of it never is the point
when you can grease old wounds
with snake oil standards, build yourself
a palace of grandiloquence
upon a somnolent landscape,
where an odor lingers in the sugarcane.
Still he proselytized the word’s relentless power,
then delivered. The unwitting population
was struck dumb with it, stood and stared
and gnawing bones and corncobs
from their chicken-biscuit dinners.
Out toward the fields sat and spit
(also as the used-to-front-and-center-but
displaced), with all their piss and fire.
His perverse dreams of inclusion carried plain
across the pastures, so they began to ferment
the slow drip of his demise. (And in the fields
the sugarcane, the smoke, the crosses,
and the blue mouths freshly buried.)
Still farther from the scene, outside the frame,
inside the swamp, among the cypress knees,
held the space of shadows, listening
silent as the breaths of risen ghosts.
Today as then the scene lurks back to mystic,
out in the mire where land is legend, crimes
inscribed in silt, from when the world was new
to all the moonless witness since,
of lance and dagger, arrow, shotgun, rope
and fist, a stranglehold that squeezed
and squeezes people shiftless, shifted
as their region built of mud,
oozing from the river’s marshy bowels.
Maybe he was later shot or not
because of hopes he dangled
like exalted words just out of reach,
or does it even matter,
when the failures, triumphs, hates all merge
together in the memory like melting film.
And the ghastly water of the swamp
still exhales mosquito swarms of devils.