this town don’t grow on you. she grows inside you, in your soft belly, an old oak with too many roots tangled up in your guts. this town’s got secrets as old as Sin.
remember the wire fence, my neighbor’s swimmin’ pool, how in violet midnights we used to sprint shiverin’ through my yard, reekin’ of chlorine—we ain’t never been Godly perfect. summers we played ball and smeared ourselves through the red dust till we paraded home in victory lookin’ like astronauts fresh from mars. we were all bloody scabs and band-aids, swollen lips and loose teeth, the bruises on our skin shaped like God’s fingers. we spat all over the grimy pavement. we stabbed apples with buck knives. we went huntin’ for ghosts after dark just to brag that we saw ’em and came back alive.
our old daddies got hearts like crowbars and our sweet mamas got cavities. everybody over forty’s got a box of deer bones and a story about the time they met the Devil himself and survived. they got frayed coats and torn jeans and hands that are calloused like their parents’ hands. they got silver hair and tobacco-caked lungs and mouths that don’t like to sing no more. their sorry hymns bled into the croaking of frogs in the cotton blur of the thick night sky. remember, we wondered who was fixin’ survival.
Hell’s real, cries the pastor with his hands full of snakes. Hell’s real, cries the pastor, and we’ve built it right here. Christ stopped in dixie, the pastor cries, but He didn’t actually come in. now, the pastor’s glassy eyes whisper, now we can’t leave.
we never saw any ghosts, not in the junkyard, not in the woods, no matter how hard we shouted at Jesus to push a few our way. so, maybe we were the wicked ones. maybe we were the hauntin’, all sharp teeth and rot-black ribs. mama says this here, this empty porch swing, this sepia—this is God’s country, but i think they stopped inviting Him a long time ago.