Poem: "Outside Talent"

I wrote the first draft of this as lyrics for a friend’s folk music project and have spent the last year tinkering with it. In this poem, I grapple with my feelings toward rural decline, as someone who very much hails from "white trash" and someone who is now very much positioned among urbanity. There are also some questions about the role of cultural capital versus material and political capital that percolated behind the writing of this poem, but those aren’t so essential to the writing itself.

Photo Credit: Marley Kinser

"Outside Talent"

You’re a child hiding in your mother’s legs:

In the woods, in your cold dirt floor house, she would feed you,

and it was cold, and the floors were dirt, but it was home still

But now her breast is blackened, so as not to tempt you,

for she has no milk left to give

You could toil in the ground, but pine needle cover leaves the soil too acidic, and nothing good to eat will grow

Seeing-eye dogs leave their shit in the yard and you want to curse them

But you don’t,

Instead you see Jesus of Nazareth walking along the side of 99 West

Driving your family home from the opening-weekend-matinee-showing of “The Empire Strikes Back”

A revelation!

You don’t quit being a banker, but you make your son wash the feet of the town

You pray he has a son and does the same.

Now I sit on the bus and watch the raindrops make rivers on the plastic window

The streets are swollen with storm drain runoff

The dam’s about to burst, they’ve called Mr. Mulholland, and I want to go home

But home is rotted-bottom trailers and a Dollar General now

My teeth are yellowed but my smile is straight

And I’m not welcome back

He was a truck driver for 35 years without a single accident.

He fell and broke his hip and fluid filled his lungs and I wasn’t invited to the funeral.

Four hours is too long to drive, so I run there.

#poem #Oregon #rural

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