Spirit alphabet, letter A's steps rustle and fade, Jackpaw
whines in dobro glades, NO U SPIRITU COMBURERE
where a pile of possum muscle hangs, sucks wheezily
in branches. Wander, Master Croup Cough Jackpaw,
and ponder land relic carpets on this frost carven November,
puffing a Prince Albert stuffed pipe, knees glistening
with slugs, on all fours stoop to sang for ruby berries
in woods rubble in shade of Shangri-la. Waxen belled white
Indian pipe breaks in loosened humps. He is careful picking
rootage on this eight acres in Stecoah Valley,
Jackpaw's own sliver of the valley's folds.
Wild vegetables are stochastic cards hunted,
the digger's season contained in boundary lines bought
with grunt money, from hours measuring crushed rock,
weighing stone. Jackpaw runs the scale; in a wasp-hot booth
watches dump trucks roll off. The interstate
is a Civilian Conservation effort for the touring cars—
Smoky Mountain highways, hydraulic skeins of oil,
shiny lobster backs of hick-bought men, bodies
all shovel angles, eager to see wheels go.
All that remains are corn cake hovels, dogs and clay,
a wife wobbling with children on Jackpaw's silent
hill where bear bones fossil, where he comes gathering,
walking the turnpike, ten miles removed from Tink
and Patsy Ann cooped in the house stocked with Sears.
Out digging for extra dough, quarry paychecks
not feeding his baby fast enough, possibles were got
from the company store. Rationed check to check,
thousands of replica wights etched on roads in progress,
on a rock crusher's punch clock, Civilian Conservation Corps
anf further. Lost and found, hitching job to job statewide, Dilly, dally, don't you eat granpappy's dilly beans
for your noon meat. Sway with that jackhammer,
stay on your feet, cause that vinegar belly'll make you weep.
Jackpaw's mate Leora he calls Tink, baby Patsy Ann
in a trough by the sink. He'd found the M.D. drunk
in Robbinsville and whipped him sober. Jackpaw
bought medicine hands for five dollars
he plowed all day in sweat to earn. Doing without,
saving company nickels, he purchased Shangri-la.
Jackpaw's own dirt, Tink and the baby at her momma's,
does she reckon hope is waning? Wool cap half-cocked
on his skull—he’s a rounder, a black never
seen til age twenty-two. What likes this mountain
boy to do so far removed? He will come here
six years hence and plant a stand of white pine
in rows down clear to creek's edge, with his little son Bill
the seedlings carry. Jackpaw remembers withers
of his heels as he searched for hill plot where grew
palm-size tuber men. Goldy leaves and masked
mascara of purple stalk. Now sure in his turtle's walk
near ground, Jackpaw names, exclaims the growth
he hunts: Whew, bejesus, poochow. Pen Ts'ao Kung Mu,
his Case knife spars barkish blackened dirt from root legs.
Another ringed fourteen year old humunculus dug,
Jackpaw makes a cut, sniffs the chocolate shell,
sees future Chinee wallets snap open and spill yuan.
He chuckles and sinks sang in burlap on his back,
his layered courderoy sags Panax quinquefolium.
Knows not Jackpaw his book learning, the logical,
rooster-breasted words, but the roots speak
no less regally—phantom mouths party, a tiny special
counsel mounded in Jackpaw's bag, a musty pouch saying secrets—
dirt cakes shaken off as Jackpaw rises, hand to back.
Backhand to brow drip, wiping, he hears their names
squirt miniscule, understands plants' voices from autumns past.
Starting down the path, brogans sucking mud,
late in the day dooms whistle in oaks as Jackpaw shivers,
shrugs fear. Twisting the Mason's cap he swigs deep—
rush of the shine's electric fuzz punches his toes. Give it me then, ye dwarfen mollies, sang ain't no cause
for hecklin a threadbare prophet. Devils cannot a soldier's
faith wrinkle—you’re bound for the Hotel's Queen—shut ye scaries.
No longer a mumbling buzz, the roots mellifluous names,
of the ginseng's market demesne:
Happy Book Hotel
Happy Book Hotel
BE WE NAMED Wizmick Cozmasta
Ornathra Koing Dau
Geepless Pluey Pi
Sheek Lestlus Ow
Powbum of Uvisgrow
Sno Snu Skim
Wat Chixstu Plax
Names shred angel wings to molasses, Jackpaw thumps
the trail, sack squirming yarbles. Well, what was grandpa
Jackpaw doing at the Hotel peddling happy roots,
writing happenbooks? He was only contracted to sell
sang to rich guests. But Jackpaw, a scat-song adder,
soon hissed, Forge me treasures, anvil's head ringing silver hoop letters.
He conversed with the owner Queen Alli Bem Challah,
uttering the lingo crinkle cranks he heard.
She sat him down to draw line languages in fear: At first, the roots were wary, and then I understood them
writ on pages, began a squigglin passel of scribble,
could only scrabble signs unknown—shadow veined letters
like the coat of many colors, read every which way,
dreams agog, an endless alphabet intuited, knew words
I couldn't know—and then I spoke with pencils,
representing an Eden script before the cherubs' swords was raised,
and couldn't stop the riddling til I thought lines out,
made them words, the first word I put Fascinta.
Papers in my grandpa's shaky hand scroll on this way
in a mirrored cabinet. I freed an ochre desk,
darkly gnarled, all my uncles initials carved
in its grain. Musty drawers flowed with medals, trading cards,
smut books. The cabinet stood locked away.
I found a key in a wall hung gourd I broke open.
A three pronged deer antler inside, its lightning branch end
on hemp thread slid into the raspy door's keyhole,
flung wide the gate to grandpa Jackpaw's worlds entire,
manuscripts of Hobo Bee Joe on reams, ratty flakes in piles.
I pieced the whistling scythe of his word, snuffing
a story, thus spooked to document his passing.