He wakes late, aching for the throb and pound
of a man inside him. Paul Bunyan, perhaps,
striding the snowy cover of the latest Duluth
Trading Company catalog, smiling giant
with a full brown beard, chest bulging
beneath a forester’s flannel shirt, Yule tree
hoisted over one huge shoulder.
Hungry, the drive up over Draper Mountain,
past soft siennas of foxtail grass, past breezy
Blow Job Knob where the furtive marrieds
hope and skulk, too horned-up to savor
sprawling vistas of the Alleghenies
and the Blue Ridge. His rusty pickup’s blaring
Jason Aldean’s new CD of redneck
rock, and what a liner cover, what
a plump and pretty set of lips, the ways
they might be used. Down to Draper, set
among its Valley pastures, where welcome
outside money has saved the Mercantile.
In he lopes, our ridge-runner rump-ranger,
in rural manhood’s signifiers: camo pants,
Everlast sweatshirt, Western duster,
cowboy boots, the gray felt hat
bought at a rainy Civil War battle
reenactment, cavalier touch
he likes to think Jeb Stuart would
have worn. Southern small talk with ladies
behind the counter, though the hot lean cook
he’s so often admired is nowhere to be seen.
Grilled pimiento cheese, that lunchtime treat
his mother used to make, followed by
blueberry pie and a batch of barbeque
to go. Modal and melancholy, just
the way a weary mountain romantic likes it,
the banjo and the bluegrass. He chews slowly,
trying to savor all—cheese, mayonnaise,
the rich and peppery taste of childhood,
the memoried crust of homemade country sweets
before love fled or bled or was proven
insufficient. What he tries to forget—
how friends and family would feel about how
deeply he longs for a bigger, stronger man
to master him. What he tries to believe,
humming through rapt mouthfuls of Dixie’s
caloric comforts—here in the hills
I still belong. Here, I’m safe. Here, I’m home.
Here, one day, may all I am be welcome.
Jeff Mann has published five books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, Ash, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels; two collections of essays, Edge and Binding the God; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; five novels, Fog, Purgatory, Cub, Salvation, and Country; and three volumes of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, Desire and Devour, and Consent. The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards and two Pauline Réage Novel Awards, he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech.