I grew up in Maryland, bonded Appalachian, then moved west and stayed. I've worked in the building trades most of my life: carpenter, plumber, electrician. Also a writer all my life, a dozen books, mostly novels. I live with my high school sweetheart in the house we built in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. joecottonwood.com
Sometimes rural America looks like crap
especially in sleet when you’re driving
a vintage VW bus with a weak heater
north from Chesapeake Bay.
It’s all gray. The railroad tracks.
The town with three bars and no cafe.
With my six-year-old son riding shotgun,
shivering, toweling the windshield,
I’m looking for some dead ancestor’s homestead
but we’d settle for a warm drink and a cheeseburger.
At a gas station we get heat-lamped hot dogs,
a basket of backyard apples (tart and crunchy),
their last pair of gloves (I wear the left, my son the right)
Down a dirt road with cows plodding in front of us,
sloshing their udders
until a wet dog chases them away,
there’s a structure missing half its wood siding.
While we’re poking around, a red pickup stops.
A farm boy asks what we’re doing.
He says somebody’s stealing the weathered siding
off that old outbuilding.
“Not me,” I tell him, and we make to leave.
He tells me the land we’re looking for is under water
since they built the Conowingo Dam
and we’re in Pennsylvania now, anyway.
There’s no sign when you cross the line.
We pass a dead horse, vultures. Farmhouses
surrounded by trash and cars. A hawk glaring
from a bare tree. To get home it’ll be two hours
by freeway at the mercy of tractor-trailers
through the tunnel under Baltimore Harbor.
“Sorry,” I say to my son.
“This is great,” he says.
From me he got the explorer gene.
Icy road, we take it easy.
Somehow, a fine day.
First published in San Pedro River Review.
© 2018 Joe Cottonwood
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