Four Poems on Place by Ray McManus


Originally published early 2016. Brought back from the Dead.

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

My bio is simple: every dirt road in Lexington County has blood on it. I was born from that blood. I was born southern to a fading fall of split chins, calluses, and hog killing; every pine tree has my face on it. I didn’t grow up with poetry in my house, so I stole it. I carry the scar of South Carolina on my left knee.
In my hometown, most of the farms were already ruined before I got there. We grew pot in the chicken houses, mixed mash behind the junk yard, shot wild dogs. This was long before mobile meth labs, long before we defiled ourselves with cornbread and copper wiring. And I always wanted more from boiled peanuts.
I don’t want to be defined beyond a history that is not mine. I am not the story of every kid who punched back the dust, pulled up re-election signs, and threw bricks through school windows. I am not the story of every broken bottle on the straw. I am the straw.


The Descent of Man

Cavemen are loneliest in museums.
Cavemen leave when we turn
our backs on them. They go to Home
Depot and ignore power equipment.
They go straight towards paint
then lumber. They touch everything.

Cavemen can’t build on their own.
Cavemen need aisles, need shovels.
Their jaws jut, knuckles broken,
all that digging got them nowhere.
Now they grunt behind the cart.
Home Depot is kind to cavemen.

Cavemen are horrible at sweeping.
Cavemen walk past brooms and dust
bins. Their caves littered with broken
tools to scrape the bones of cavemen
who came before them, who, for a time,
lived the same way as we do.

In the Absence of Protection

In Home Depot, shelves are stacked
from floor to ceiling to trap the ghosts
of abandoned projects in our life.
Aisle 9, that stupid boyfriend.
Aisle 15, the Bible my mother gave us.
Still, we’re compelled to come here
to soothe our lonely impulses
to do something together.

Why should credit be limited
when Allegheny Flagstone is light?
I’m careful to carry a stone in each hand,
ape-like with the world dead around me,
and make a wager to carry more weight
the next time I think you’re looking.
I’ll keep the card in my back pocket
just in case. Let’s do this:

Let’s move all the stones from shelf
to cart to truck, to the new flowerbed
under the front oak. Let’s pretend
the voice in my head is yours.
Let’s build a wall for us to hide behind
so the kids can’t find us. Let’s carry
nothing on our backs. Like everything else
here, we can pay for it later.

Origin of Species

My neighbor was born 400,000 years ago
and crawled in the grass because food
was dangerous. He learned math and tables
because the cat takes the bird, the bird takes
the fish. Because there is safety in numbers.
Because he will always be hungry.

My neighbor evolved into a hand hidden
in a bathrobe, an arm that could swing
when raised, but at night he strips
in the open and lets what falls lie. How easy
it would be to call him savage in his ape-like
sway, the way he swings a stick around the yard,
the rocks in his pocket. How easy it would be
to think that a hand should mean something
if neighbors are going to eat each other.

But apes don’t look for rocks to keep.
Apes don’t need math. They don’t carry
a stick hoping for a chance to use it. Men are
the ones who think that way. Always have.
Ask Your Doctor

I used credit up front, got the fountain,
the Allegheny Flagstone for $1.28 a block,
a ceramic rooster. The kids scream
in the backyard, a jet overhead descends
and there is little difference. Sometimes
I go outside and search for holes to hide in.
I dig in finger deep, make bold declarations
like danger and need. Sometimes I talk
to myself. Sometimes I wait for you.

Escape is best brightened by dark nights,
a sleepy house, staying in the garage.
And the truth is, I always wish you’d
tell the kids that you have something
important to do and come find me.
It’s frightening to think of the hours
between 12 and 7; it’s lonely.
I’m quick to use the credit card
at the Home Depot because I want
people to know that I’m not afraid
to pay a bill when it’s due. But that’s
a lie. I just want you to fuck me.