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Page O' Poems  

        Going Back Down South

Not exactly Midnight Train to Georgia, but close.
One A.M. red-eye bus to Memphis --
peppery fried chicken in a waxed bag,
six copies of Jet,
a scratchy blanket from home
still smelling of sex. Viola,
her limbs languid,
her mouth everywhere.

Outside the dust-caked window
an inky midnight ribbon unravels,
and New York City's staccato concrete boxes,
leaning in and leering windowpane teeth,
snap their goodbyes.

Pushing back in the stiff seat, he thinks
I have been defeated by a city.
It wasn't the dirt,
the homeless curling into winter commas,
or the steam wafting from boulevard grates.
It wasn't the six people bound and executed
on Valentine's Day in a shabby Bronx apartment.
It wasn't the whorish headlines in the Post
or the horrific rhumba when the Center blew.
It wasn't Viola, sinewy city girl,
or the way she bit into his shoulder
when she wanted him. No, it wasn't Viola
or her surrounding of him.

Last week's phone conversation
with Gra'Ma Green convinced him,
made him cram his life into soft luggage.
He could see her round wired frames
pushed down almost to dropping off her nose,
long silver hair pinned and braided,
her bony hips swimming in gingham.
"Come on home, baby," she'd cooed,
same as always,
but this time it was a dose he could swallow.
Shucking peas on her rickety porch in Memphis,
somehow the woman had known
his knotted shoulders,
heard him scream into his hands.

The Greyhound finds its rhythm. It will be days
before he buries his face in his grandmother's hair,
weeks before she will find a way
to weaked the poison in his blood. Viola.
Her limbs languid. Her mouth.

--Patricia Smith