November 2001

Jordan Smith


Jordan Smith is the author of An Apology for Loving the Old Hymns (Princeton University Press, 1982), Lucky Seven (Wesleyan University Press, 1988), and The Household of Continuance (Copper Beech Press, 1992). He has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the NEA. He teaches at Union College in Schenectady, NY.
Another Country   

The old, weird America…
—Greil Marcus

Somewhere to one side of the state's numbered highways
Where we work, dwell and keep our credit ratings
Fattening, down those side roads (Turk Hill, Farm
To Market, Plank Road) rising suddenly
Toward a hilltop line of oaks or bending away,
Blue notes, just out sight past the strip mall's
Packing depot and liquor store,
The corner of a blue mailbox glimpsed
At the edge of vision, a driveway there, forking,
One path toward the empty house, its sagging porch
And lintels, the other toward a steep hillside rising
From a grove of hardwoods.
                                             ("Hickory Ridge,"
When I was a kid, beyond the suburbs, past
My friend's place, the last farm on Ayrault Road.
To get there I walked the farm lane, ducked the barbed wire
Where dead woodchucks hung by a small
Pile of shotgun shells, then a climb through vines,
Brambles, insect galls, and on the top, a view
Of where I'd come from, a dozen circuitous
Ways back, unchoosable—Fate, wrote Emerson,
Is what you may do; there is much
You may not
—until some older kids
Chased me back with stones.)
                                                But that
Was another America, I think, not this one,
With no frost on that pumpkin, no
Yankee muttering you can't get there
From here
, and every crossway marked
So well the devil you meet at the signpost is always,
Like a good insurance man, an old friend,
And the contract, just a preprinted form, signed
And returned a hundred times, certified, return receipt.

Stay on the state road and there's
Mechanicville, form following
Function downhill to the old mill, half a wreck,
Part of a washroom hanging four stories up, white
Plastered walls and sink against a falling
Exterior of red brick, and beyond that
The Hudson, gray and flat, a thick mist.
                                                       Crossing there

Balanced on the bridge between the back-
End of Main Street and the state boat launch,
Held up by construction, I'm the man with one foot
On the platform and the other on the train, straddling
The broad river's straight plunge through local
Knowledge: you can't live on the fish you catch here
Or on the wage the companies that ruined the water
Pay, but the gray, scaly, fog-like light is a presence
You might move through toward forgetfulness,
As if the best you could hope for was to shrug it all away.
                                                                              Pour me
Another cup of coffee, I tell the woman in the diner,
Route 32 outside the plate glass window slipping
So fast into mere being, I feel I have to speed up just
To hold some sort of focus, for it is the best in this land.
She doesn't seem to know the song. On the wall
Above the booth, there's one of those Bible-sized
Jukeboxes, the thick pages of songs
Flipping heavily, a menu or the leaves
Of a sacred book, food for.... not thought exactly,
A single guitar line drawn thin
With longing until the shuffle rhythm comes in below it,
Just one foot after another, just another day, and no return
On the quarter except the usual hustle, the usual jive, but
Imagine on the last-turned page,
                                                    the title
Hand-scrawled in faint brown ink, and the speakers crackling,
Just voice and guitar in some uncertain key,
The phrases winding like penciled lines on a map.
There's a little dust rising from the road ahead,
And, barely in sight, a man in a worn shirt and felt hat
Singing there's no depression in heaven.
If he walks until evening, it will not be far enough,
To come to that other country that waits,
Like a good song, where there is nowhere else to go.

     for Liam Rector



Jordan Smith: Poetry
Copyright © 2001 The Cortland Review Issue 18The Cortland Review