“Dock Grade Road” by Jackie McManus

Jackie McManus


If it weren’t for an old feud between the town
on the cliff and the town on the water
racing to get their berry crops to market,
this road would not have been built.

And now one hundred and thirty-nine years later,
the feud still alive, community elves have adorned
this half-mile mountain road. Fishing line and
zip ties hang ornaments like fruit from trees.

I’m driving with my daughter.
She could be one of these, a bulb buoyant
with the pledge of spring or like that one
on the shoulder, broken glass.

When she was born we said Isn’t she perfect?
then dissected her perfection. Aren’t her ears
perfect? But today black plugs are punched
into a bulbous hole in her lobes like the flat eyes

of an abandoned doll. She sits on the brink
of her seat as if about to flee, yearning to be
beheld in her new dress. I am not so old
that it’s forgotten: this ache to be acknowledged,

witnessed, loved. It is an old feud stirring
in my fifteen-year-old daughter in that new dress,
high tops flashing like an alarm on the floorboard.
I want to lock the new dress in the house

but my hands are driving it to town
where it will meet people. A large ornament,
red, in the shape of a tear, clings to the cuff
of an oak near my door. I could

reach out and pluck it. Quick. Remind me
of something good. How it is a feud that built
a road we still drive, how daughters carry Ishmael
in tie-dyed bags but also a rusty copper teapot

and a flint, and how things don’t always make sense
and sometimes that is the crumbled beauty of it.
If only there were more light; if only there were
more time. How long can a town hang on to a feud?

I want the ornaments in her ears to stop
their blind stare and her shoes to stop winking
from hell. I want to break this enchantment but
too many bulbs have dropped from these woods

on this road, on this very road, dripping holy.
There are vehicles in front of us, behind us.
They, too, could be caught in the current of a child,
one that keeps running away.

Soon I will drop her off on one side of the feud,
the side we live on.

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians


Jackie McManus: “I was about to work as the director of a library in Wisconsin when I spoke with someone at the main office. ‘It must be so nice to work surrounded by books,’ I said. ‘What books?’ she countered. She was right. I did less reading as the director of a library than I ever have. Unless you count story-time for children (which was absolute fun). Still, it was one of the best jobs I look back on, and miss. If it inspired my writing in any way, it would have to do less with the employment than the place, which I write about often.” (web)

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