Sunday, July 22, 2018

if given more years

Daddy, drawn up into the mountains

my brother called it “The Walker Curse,”
the way some of us with my father’s genes
are usually hotter than any around us,
a hyper-activity with sweat,

I go for a hike
and I wonder if I should just pour the water onto my clothes,
skip hydrating and thus skip the middle man,

my dad grew up in Low Country, South Carolina,
before air-conditioning,
he said he’d lose three pounds in a football work-out,

he went to college at Furman,
just in sight of the Appalachian’s southern highlands,
and I wonder how much they called him,

he found a way to get to East Tennessee
and to build a  summer cabin in the Smokies,
he’d teach at summer school in Knoxville,
because we needed the income,
when he’d get to where the road left the flat valley,
to where the trees shaded road and river,
he’d roll down the windows
and declare the cool breezes nature’s air-conditioning,
usually he’d pile us into the car,
and we’d go to the Old Swimming Hole,
where he’d soap off the sweat, 
and be cool, finally,

today my wife and I head to that summer cabin,
this time driving from Durham to Charlotte 
to Greenville, S.C., Furman’s home,
we buy a basket of South Carolina peaches, 
we hope fresh from the trees,
and I imagine Daddy, a son of South Carolina, called to leave,
called up into these mountains, along the very way we’re driving,
outside the car, the Confederacy still tries to Iive
in flags and signs, just before the climb toward North Carolina,
the Rebel yell, as if to hold us back,
to pull us back into the pestilential swamp
where my first Walker ancestor made his fortune,
there along the Little Salkehatchie River,
down coast from Charleston,
and with people brutalized into slavery,

there my father grew up,
and the nightmare of the Slave Times pulled at him,
as it still does in the psyche of our peoples,

Daddy died in 1962, before the openness of change
could work on him as well as had 
the openness of mountains rising to the sky,

Daddy loved to learn, to nurture us and his students,
to follow the lead of a partner
who loved the best that called to us,

our drive from Greenville, South Carolina, into the mountains,
reprises my father’s physical journey,
what I do with my life in education honors him, 
reprising him as teacher in my devotion to my students,

how I work to escape nightmares of the past, 

and to follow dreams of the future,
is how I imagine he would be,
if given more years, and thus the chance.

by Henry H. Walker
July 20, ‘18

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