Archive for December, 2009

James Dickey – Cherrylog Road

Posted in Poems by others on December 6, 2009 by paulscotaugust

James Dickey (1923-1997) may be best known for his novel Deliverance and the 1972 movie of the same name starring Burt Reynolds (where Dickey had a cameo as a sheriff), but he released more than 20 volumes of poetry between 1960 and 1992, was appointed the eighteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1966, and taught at the University of South Carolina as poet-in-residence from 1968 until his death. This is one of his best poems, and I found it in his 1967 book of selected poems (1957-1967) and was originally in his 1964 book Helmets. A narrative tour-de-force with a last line to die for, it has resonated with me since the first time I read it.

Cherrylog Road

Off Highway 106
At Cherrylog Road I entered
The ’34 Ford without wheels,
Smothered in kudzu,
With a seat pulled out to run
Corn whiskey down from the hills,

And then from the other side
Crept into an Essex
With a rumble seat of red leather
And then out again, aboard
A blue Chevrolet, releasing
The rust from its other color,

Reared up on three building blocks.
None had the same body heat;
I changed with them inward, toward
The weedy heart of the junkyard,
For I knew that Doris Holbrook
Would escape from her father at noon

And would come from the farm
To seek parts owned by the sun
Among the abandoned chassis,
Sitting in each in turn
As I did, leaning forward
As in a wild stock-car race

In the parking lot of the dead.
Time after time, I climbed in
And out the other side, like
An envoy or movie star
Met at the station by crickets.
A radiator cap raised its head,

Become a real toad or a kingsnake
As I neared the hub of the yard,
Passing through many states,
Many lives, to reach
Some grandmother’s long Pierce-Arrow
Sending platters of blindness forth

From its nickel hubcaps
And spilling its tender upholstery
On sleepy roaches,
The glass panel in between
Lady and colored driver
Not all the way broken out,

The back-seat phone
Still on its hook.
I got in as though to exclaim,
“Let us go to the orphan asylum,
John; I have some old toys
For children who say their prayers.”

I popped with sweat as I thought
I heard Doris Holbrook scrape
Like a mouse in the southern-state sun
That was eating the paint in blisters
From a hundred car tops and hoods.
She was tapping like code,

Loosening the screws,
Carrying off headlights,
Sparkplugs, bumpers,
Cracked mirrors and gear-knobs,
Getting ready, already,
To go back with something to show

Other than her lips’ new trembling
I would hold to me soon, soon,
Where I sat in the ripped back seat
Talking over the interphone,
Praying for Doris Holbrook
To come from her father’s farm

And to get back there
With no trace of me on her face
To be seen by her red-haired father
Who would change, in the squalling barn,
Her back’s pale skin with a strop,
Then lay for me

In a bootlegger’s roasting car
With a string-triggered I2-gauge shotgun
To blast the breath from the air.
Not cut by the jagged windshields,
Through the acres of wrecks she came
With a wrench in her hand,

Through dust where the blacksnake dies
Of boredom, and the beetle knows
The compost has no more life.
Someone outside would have seen
The oldest car’s door inexplicably
Close from within:

I held her and held her and held her,
Convoyed at terrific speed
By the stalled, dreaming traffic around us,
So the blacksnake, stiff
With inaction, curved back
Into life, and hunted the mouse

With deadly overexcitement,
The beetles reclaimed their field
As we clung, glued together,
With the hooks of the seat springs
Working through to catch us red-handed
Amidst the gray breathless batting

That burst from the seat at our backs.
We left by separate doors
Into the changed, other bodies
Of cars, she down Cherrylog Road
And I to my motorcycle
Parked like the soul of the junkyard

Restored, a bicycle fleshed
With power, and tore off
Up Highway 106, continually
Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
Wringing the handlebar for speed,
Wild to be wreckage forever.

James Dickey

Into the Stone and Other Poems (1960)
Drowning with Others (1962)
Two Poems of the Air (1964)
Helmets (1964)
Buckdancer’s Choice (1965)
Poems 1957-67 (1967)
The Achievement of James Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Poems (1968)
The Eye Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy (1970)
Exchanges (1971)
The Zodiac (1976)
Veteran Birth: The Gadfly Poems 1947-49 (1978)
Head-Deep in Strange Sounds: Free-Flight Improvisations from the unEnglish (1979)
The Strength of Fields (1979)
Falling, May Day Sermon, and Other Poems (1981)
The Early Motion (1981)
Puella (1982)
Värmland (1982)
False Youth: Four Seasons (1983)
For a Time and Place (1983)
Intervisions (1983)
The Central Motion: Poems 1968-79 (1983)
Bronwen, The Traw, and the Shape-Shifter: A Poem in Four Parts (1986)
The Eagle’s Mile (1990)
The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1949-92 (1992).

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