poetry
autumn/winter 2018

Up Country Two Countries

by Bernard James

I was grown up North / Yet 

    Raised in a Southern household

Where breath of my 

Ancestors 

Cast Dice 

on the promise

Of a Great Migration

 

Me / Progeny of domestic immigrants

    In search of Reconstruction / Still

Confused migratory birds / We nested 

In houses carved from ice / Traveled

    Home only when the sun resumed

Its lengthy arc / Swallowing

Ribbons of highway we straddled 

Time / Over the Mason-Dixon

Back into States that fought

    To keep their slaves / Hear

The echo / Black Moses awakening

Tin roof shack 

Up Country sand hills 

Our target 

Destination

 

Born a Keystone with roots in Palmetto

The scent of white pine and hot sand

My annual welcome mat / Whether

Holed up North 

Or hunkered down South

We prayed the same prayers

Sang the same songs

Always knew it was the (same) blood

Hot-sauce and vinegar applied lovingly to the same greens

Generations of umbilical tethering

My ports of entry

 

Settlers decamped

In a foreign land / We left

    The cotton to its own devices / Nurtured 

Families on streets of soot-stained

cities by streetlight

candlelight / Sparks of molten

Steel / Country customs

Our Southern ways enshrined

    In perpetuity 

Recycling lives / Recycling everything

 

Momma used Crisco oil when she fried

Her pork chops

Chicken 

Wings and corn / Combined with

Fatback it always gave up the greasy ghost

With plenty left over to drizzle 

Back in the can once

That culinary currency had a chance to cool down

    The can that rested behind the stove / All

Red white and blue / That bottomless 

Cylindrical well / Deep enough 

To hold coffee grounds

And cloudy marbles

Silver dollars / Paper presidents

Bicentennial quarters / Rusty nails

But primarily valued

For the salty-spicy amalgam 

Of drippings procured to build 

The next feast on the back of a previous meal

 

Have you never tasted 

Green tomatoes in Bacon grease fried

For years we had no toaster / Browned

 Our bread in the bottom 

Of the broiler / Slight

Kiss of butter / Granulated sugar

A childhood confectioner’s solemn delight

 

Without fail 

We issued Thank You / Please and

Yes Ma’am

Don’t act surprised

Such courtesies are still expected

Especially on the sabbath 

When we got down

Like our Carolina cousins

White-gloved Communion Sundays and

Watch Night services / Pastor’s anniversary

Tent revivals under the stars where the 

Same Holy Ghost descended from God’s Heavenly throne

 

In Jesus’ name / It was all the same

My brothers and sisters

The very same

It was all the same

 

Family photo courtesy of James Bernard Short.
Family photo courtesy of James Bernard Short.

Writing under the pseudonym Bernard James, James Bernard Short is an emerging short fiction writer, and poet, whose singular ambition as an artist is to produce smart, expressive, and culturally authentic content capturing the wide spectrum of aspirations and challenges encountered by persons of color. James’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, The New Guard, Blood Orange Review, The McNeese Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly. James is a 2018/2017/2016 Kimbilio Fellow, and holds degrees from Northwestern and The University of St. Thomas.

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