The Carrie Allen McCray Prize
What Happened on Flat Creek in Montreat, North Carolina, When I was 14, That Changed My Life
It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
The blackbird belly-flopped
through a balsam tree,
some slick, dark, hand-picked bomb
which hit hard by my father’s feet.
Uncle Paddy handed me the gun.
We turned and walked the path home.
Spitting a coarse clot of tobacco juice
into spring’s first dogtooth violets,
Uncle ground it in with his size 14 boot.
Toward dusk, making excuse like twigs
for firewood, I climbed back to that balsam tree
whose ancient silver roots grew above ground
right down the gorge, right into Flat Creek
and then attached to the bank beyond,
hoping to find some measure of life
still in the blackbird, hoping with my strength
added, we’d outgrow the dilemma together.
I held it with both hands as fireflies flashed
you stay, you go,
among the gnarled and crooked trees.
I stayed a long time,
knowing it would get colder,
remembering the song of a bird
on the first day in May, when I was tired,
thinking about what was wrong,
figuring out what was lost.
I’d be traveling twenty years to get it back.