Archive, Poems

Gate City Breakdown

Like a vein of hard coal, it was the strike
We fantasized, the pocket of sure reward we sidestepped the road-
            blocks for
In Southwest Virginia, seamed in its hillside.
Above the north fork of the Holston River.

One afternoon before Christmas
In 1953, we crossed the bridge from Tennessee on a whiskey run,
Churchill and Bevo Hammond and Philbeck and I,
All home for the holidays.
On the back road where they chased us, we left the Sheriff’s Patrol in
            their own dust,
And washed ours down with Schlitz on the way home.

Jesus, it’s so ridiculous, and full of self-love,
The way we remember ourselves,
                                                            and the dust we leave . . .
Remember me as you will, but remember me once
Slide-wheeling around the curves,
            letting it out on the other side of the line.

Charles Wright is an American poet. He shared the National Book Award in 1983 for Country Music: Selected Early Poems and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for Black Zodiac. From 2014 to 2015, he served as the 50th Poet Laureate of the United States.

These poems first appeared in Volume XXI, Issue 2, Summer 1980 of Poetry Northwest.