— Way on back through the underwood by Bowen’s Canal

Well we’d heard it to be veiny with cottonmouths I’m not gonna lie.


For true
the sheer (snake-electric) back-beyond of the place
put a pull on us like a magnet.


That that rag-rope (flagged and) barred the path just egged us on.


(To go and
skulk- and sidle-learn
to palp and tap the edge
to crack us in.)


— What’d we feel there once we’d crossed?


thought-thick trunks
of swampfoot oaks.


Something like ‘a shift in the structure of experience.


Here was
Johnny Pep (shrapped home from war)
agglomerating discards and disjecta.


His craving wove a plexus (more a house) from limbs and leaves.


He knit us in:
he left us be.   He let us watch he watched us try
(to climb to ape his crisscross weave)
to pitch to plait the roof.


Something like ‘Yall strayboys welcome to be welcome if you work.


Didn’t we ‘work’ — 
particular night-hoots (and near-chromatic whistle-riffs) in echo; likenesses
he whittled live from hickory showed us how.


He’d let us
watch him strip and shave
the shagbark bark
to taste (to read) to mull the grain.


Something like ‘root-room’ I reckon.   Something like


When Johnny Pep hitched home from war
                                          we took to carving (curing) scraplings into shapes.

More Poems by Atsuro Riley