There is a flood in my mother’s hometown
that will wash away more than gravel roads,
leave behind so much more than silt and driftwood.
As the waters of the Mississippi crawl up
the floodwalls beyond the marks from years past—
The Great Flood of 1913; The Hundred-Year Flood of 1952,
the year of her birth—the people of Cairo will leave,
the mandated evacuation from the governor
forcing them from their homes, bringing with them
the practically useless things that feel so essential:
old photo albums, grandma’s brooch from the jewelry box.
Aunt Crane clutches her daughter’s Raggedy Ann doll,
bringing with her everything she would always
want to have with her. The number who come back
is never as great as the number who left—
some fed up with the constant running away from home,
others disheartened by the claims agent’s assessment
that their already worthless homes are worth even less
now that they’re damaged. Some will find work in other towns.
The floodwaters will pick up the sidewalk bricks
and pool them at the bottom of the hill on Holbrook Avenue.
They cannot be replaced if no one is left to rearrange them.
The painting we bought together,
our favorite record still on the turntable,
diamond-tip needle suspended,
playing the room’s silence.
I keep unearthing memories
like jars of honey sealed
in some pharaoh’s tomb—
still sweet when put to the tongue.
A book about space seems to fall
open of its own accord. The galaxies
are increasing the spaces
Kepler declared that the planets sing in orbit,
the Earth with notes of Mi, Fa, Mi. In this our home
misery and famine hold sway—
the planets hold together
and push apart by song.
At the diner down the street, I think
about our last conversation.
Your reasons for leaving
do not satisfy the growling void
of the bed’s empty space, its vacuum.
The pie of the day is reheated blackberry,
the top crust laid out
in a carefully-designed lattice.
The fruit glistening
with sugar and cornstarch,
each blackberry is its own cluster of dark stars.
Author of Writing Your Name on the Glass (Bull City Press, forthcoming), Jim Whiteside is a graduate of the creative writing MFA program at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts fellow, and is the recipient of a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared or will soon appear in journals such as The Southern Review, Indiana Review, Kenyon Review Online, Crazyhorse, Poetry Northwest, and Salt Hill, as winner of the Philip Booth Poetry Prize. Originally from Cookeville, Tennessee, he works as a barista in Charlotte, North Carolina.