The Forum Prize
As a spider knows the commerce of her web,
Uncle Arthur knew herbs, tamed hives,
kept yellow jackets in his house
a few strays usually circling his head,
combed Caldwell County backroad bogs
gathering watercress and skunk root
to make poultices for what ailed his neighbors,
who mythologized him in song:
"Man down in the hollow
Call him crazy, crazy, crazy,
Taught some fire ants how to swallow
Call him crazy, crazy,....." like that.
When he was incarcerated
for setting bonfires every two miles
along the Blue Ridge Parkway
I went to see him in federal jail.
Mouth tucked like a made bed,
he sat in a chair bolt upright,
plaited hair hanging down his back
like damp discarded rope.
He wouldn’t talk to me but told the jailer
don’t never go eatin’ black pepper.
It’ll make yer left leg hurt.
We sat on the bridge over Bull Creek
when I was twelve, our legs dangling in water
running steady with catfish.
He looked right at me, right into me:
He said little girl, yer whole life
you been running from yerself.
What matters is never to be afeared.
Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got.
How do you know that?
Uncle Arthur: Catfish told me.