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Americana

Luisa Banchoff , Winner, Poetry

We find an upturned cross in a cornfield, dirty and perverted, miles and miles from the watching barns of Middleamerica where the sprouts are the horizon’s fingernails in the ground and the trees are fleshed of throwaway spokes from the side of the road. A country in its third trimester, wrinkles easily mistaken for stretch marks, strain either way. This is my life we hear from the crusted man in the corner of the diner: faded prints of the silo, the sheep, the children, the wife, the woodpile, two of each except for the wife. A milk-carton prophet on the church corner boasts of his brokenness: three ribs, the collarbone, a kneecap, each leg at least once. Ears not made of bone, yet still they break. On each porch, American flags digest themselves, curling and uncurling and curling until they are just another line that forms the side of a pyramid whose limestone chafed the backs of great-great-grandfathers, dragged without wheels. We walk past their everydays, suddenly ashamed to be witnesses to a place that only produces coal and gray-faced photography portfolios. A mother peels back her daughter’s socks on a park bench, warning: only in movies does the skyscraper fall for the windmill. You hear it first in the snap of elastic on shin, in the mountain pursing its lips: give. In the cries of an elevator going into the Earth: give. In the mouths of the mayors who say coal or roads or heritage: give. In the climbing whistle of a loaded train carrying bricks to heat a better man’s home: give. In the creak of the out-of-duty traffic lights that cluster like two veiled lovers on the purple telephone cords above us, sick of the stop-go. Give. And later, in the solitude of the room around us, as we shake horizontal planes of light from our shoulders in a bed made from the wooden hub of it all: the muffled window above us shadowed only by the stand-in curtain, searching, earnest and wrinkle-browed for some form of meaning in the flicker of mayflies beneath the streetlights.

 

*An earlier version of Americana appeared in 2012 Kenyon Young Writers’ Program Anthology

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