The Federal Road

Austin Segrest Click to

asegrist-213Originally from Alabama, Austin Segrest is finishing his PhD in poetry at the University of Missouri. His poems have appeared recently in The Yale Review, Copper Nickel, and The Southwest Review, and are forthcoming in Harvard Review and Western Humanities.

Say our man is pissed—literally,
he’s pissed himself, thrown from the trunks
where he and five others clung.
Towering pine-light, his top hat smashed—
the other passengers yell for the driver.
“Yellibama,” he remembers a wagonload
of slaves calling it, whether for the goldenrod
or the brick-clay coating everything
or the pain of crossing this stopgap
between rivers, he couldn’t say
(they meant the mulattoes).
Here, where soldiers baited the natives
to dance naked for whisky, federal,
he’s come to see, means inexorable
over sand and swamp. A log-house
beckoned here and there, hectic,
or one of the wretched inns
called kettles for their one accommodation.
What’s all this around him? Underclothes.
The lady’s valise—she’s rumored to be a strumpet—
has fallen with him and exploded.
They picked her up at Sodom
on the Georgia border. Among her articles
are perfume bottles and a sheaf of letters
penned, no doubt, in as many rough hands.
He endeavors to dry out and walk
the rest of the corduroy road,
the slick log ribs laid out with the order
of corpses after battle, though the mosquitoes,
legion, descend like Romans.