August 13, 2021

Jeff Daniel Marion

SMOKE

Junior Hughes had just stepped out from Chick’s Burger Bar
squinting into the glare of early summer sun,
his toothpick bobbing at a jaunty angle 
when he heard it, a long low wailing rising to a whine,
a sound heard all over town: the fire station’s siren call
to all volunteers to hustle to the station.
Any minute now Rogersville’s one fire truck would be rumbling
up Depot Street at close to 10 mph, its two main occupants
Chief Noah Britton and his right-hand man
Pete Anderson. Chief Noah would be driving
because Pete at age ten had lost sight in his left eye 
during a fight, the untreated eye having grown into
a gelatinous mass that frightened children as well
as many adults. Junior swung aboard as the truck 
squalled toward Main where Brady Gladson dropped the sack
bearing a pound of tenpenny nails in his customer’s waiting hand
at Boyd-Lawson Hardware before he pushed toward the door
and in a single leap swung onto the rear of the truck
now nearing 11 mph. Next came Clay Jenkins who laid aside
his leather-stropped and honed straight razor for Hobe Russell
all lathered and settled in the chair and ready for his daily shave; 
from around the corner came Snooky Burns, sure this would be
a big scoop for this week’s Rogersville Review;
loping out of City Newsstand came Sweetenin’ Jones
leaving behind his True Crime magazine,
and last came Shoofly Goins, towel wrapped
around his neck and a mound of lunch dishes left waiting
in the sink at Lackey’s Restaurant. The great ship
now revved to 20 mph as Chief Noah shouted 
to Pete: “What’s the address?” No human voice
broke the siren’s whine for a long 30 seconds
until Pete stammered, “I thought you got it.” 
Then followed sounds only of the rumbling 
truck and its lonely siren song until from somewhere
far back on the truck came a clear voice of direction: 
“Watch for smoke, boys.”
In the long smolder of time, they rise, these men
long silent in their graves and their stories like smoke
drifting forever over these streets, 
these storefronts with now unfamiliar names, this place:

Watch for smoke, boys!

Watch for smoke.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021
Tribute to Appalachian Poets

__________

Jeff Daniel Marion: “When I was a boy growing up in east Tennessee my father took me after supper to his favorite ‘loafering’ place, the 96, a combination country store and service station where we sat for a couple of hours listening to various friends telling tales. I admired these men and the easiness of their talk and the ways their stories unfolded. Those years of listening marked me, left me always hungry for a good story rich in detail. Then in fifth grade the tables turned when my friend Wayne Price begged that I take part in our afternoon program by telling a story to our class. Thus it began. And over the years I watched lives unfold in this place where the oral tradition and good talk were as natural as breathing. But times change. Farms become subdivisions; Walmart replaces the local store. ‘Look quick, son,’ my father always advised. In that intersection of past and present, the old and the new, lies the possibility of story.”

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