Pilgrimage to The Holy City
for Mitch Compton
We leaf through Kentucky roads in a ‘74 Plymouth sedan.
Ohio’s spine binds steepled red-letter edition towns sloping
toward the river. Our passover means crossing two bridges
and Route 23’s descent to Russell’s vast rail yard.
Its screeching voices vie to prophesy of Ashland:
Armco’s blast furnace, uncles and aunts smoking their lights
and Eves, momma snapping string beans, trains running
forty steps from the kitchen door. We pause
at the leaded glass: 1616 Carter Avenue. Trill doorbell
petitions our grandmother: Lena. Mammy.
She greets us to laughter, smoke, the emerging incense
of Easter turkey. The light within gilds the edges
of soaring scrollwork like illuminated scripture. Behind
the parlor columns remains the holy of holies: a closet
under the stairs where she keeps Parsons’ hat boxes of
loose photographs. We sit on a mid-century couch at
the bay window, our backdrop a seven-story car park.
Mammy shows us pictures one by one. This is Lula,
stirring a kettle of apple butter with a wooden paddle.
That’s our sister Vera, who died three weeks after Lula.
And here’s Cole, the conductor who owned this house.
He died in ‘57. And with a lustrous voice: This one...
this one’s Charlie. In the heat of the steel mill.
The love of my life. She rises to embrace us with arms
old and strong as porch balusters, her skin soft with the
scent of Jergens. Methodist church bells tear the drapes,
still the chiseled scribe whose golden pen chronicles
our family stories on the fireplace frieze.
Before supper, we slip our prayer in the cupboard’s
crevices between loaves of Heiner’s bread, coffee tins,
and jelly jars: may we never lose the house that makes us
what we are. We know when Messiah comes, He will arrive
on the C&O. Its train horn will trumpet His coming.
The crossing lights blink their back-and-forth warning.
The gates lower the same as our reverent heads.
We grab a bag of spongy orange circus peanuts, cross
the street and make tracks up the concrete mount of olives.
As Mammy sets out her best china before the blessing, the
walls convulse and the lions stand transfixed on the oak mantel,
their mouths gaping, ready to devour the slightest unbelief.
Rebecca Weigold's poems have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including The Ekphrastic Review. In 1987, she founded/published The Cincinnati Poets' Collective, an annual poetry journal which featured the work of poets for a decade. She lives in Kentucky.
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