Highway 15, Central Virginia
~ Hecate Demetersdatter
And Autumn after Autumn,
Virginia’s seeds keep falling
On this red clay.
On this clay made red by iron,
On this iron that ruddies my blood,
On this clay that pentacles the hematite moving through my veins.
First Peoples track turkeys
and sedum falls on clay.
Englishmen rave in Jamestown,
and jimson weed falls on clay.
Settlers light out for the Blue Ridge,
and ragweed falls on clay.
Slaves follow Miss Harriet through bogswamps,
and toadflax falls on clay.
Vultures eat dead deer.
Chipmunks fill their cheeks with seeds.
Raccoons wash paw paws in sleepy creeks.
Mushrooms decay into duff.
As blue and grey collide, brother spilling brother’s blood,
asters, white and blue, fall on clay.
(Iron red blood drips onto iron red clay. One thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother. Perhaps when a thousand Autumns pass, we’ll know what this became. It’s clear we’re still processing this, still working out the story.)
As sharecroppers trade scrip for flour and coffee,
scarlet magnolia seeds fall on clay.
As cotton is king and ragtime plays,
horsenettle falls on clay.
Women make sausage gravy, die in bloody births, wring chickens’ necks, make quilts, and ostracize each other, as colonized people do.
Children skip stones.
Old people eat grits inside log cabins made close with smoke.
Knights of the KKK burn crosses.
As boys go off to die for Duke Ferdinand,
Autumn camellia seeds fall on clay.
As radios play jazz,
withered poke berries fall on clay.
As we all get rich on stocks,
broomsedge seeds fall on clay.
Miz Holiday’s strange fruit drops to the ground and is buried under clay.
The WPA builds damns, cuts roads, seeds fish.
The black diaspora swells. New York. Baltimore. Chicago. Detroit.
Bottle trees sprout outside respectable homes.
Tobacco money grows colleges and gardens.
Segregated drinking fountains stain the land.
Separate is proposed as a synonym for equal.
No one believes it.
Weeds grow along the liminal space between pavement and pine forest.
Old women gather cool plantain leaves, ripe blackberries, and the birth control of Queen Anne’s seeds.
Chicory flowers escape from Monticello and bloom blue across the state.
Foxtail and goosegrass feed the birds.
And Virginia’s clay absorbs them all.
Each Autumn, there is a new harvest.
We drive past, drunk on dappled sunlight and shadow, in love with every weed we see. We, too, are made of this harvest. We, too, will fall on clay.