Cherrylog Road

By James L. Dickey 1923–1997
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, “Cherrylog Road” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press, www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.

Source: James Dickey: The Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1998)

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Poet James L. Dickey 1923–1997

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Love, Men & Women, Youth, Living, Relationships, Desire

 James L. Dickey

Biography

Widely regarded as one of the major mid-century American poets, James Dickey is known for his sweeping historical vision and eccentric poetic style. Joyce Carol Oates described Dickey’s unique perspective as a desire “to take on ‘his’ own personal history as an analogue to or a microscopic exploration of twentieth-century American history.” His expansionist aesthetic is evident in his work’s range and variety of voices, which . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Love, Men & Women, Youth, Living, Relationships, Desire

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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