Volume 68, Number 2 · Spring 2019

The Road Over Catawba Mountain

The road over Catawba Mountain is jealous
of the roads surrounding Catawba Mountain.
The roads at its feet birth houses and little
gas stations made of diesel pumps and beef jerky.
People who walk those roads, or hustle bicycles
over them, or stand planted in front of a duffel bag,
thumb climbing at a car’s approach,
are rarely looking for a way onto the road

over Catawba Mountain. They do not
venture far without the sheen of metal
harnessed around their bodies, and even then
they never loiter. The few houses
clinging to the base of the road over Catawba Mountain
might as well be gutted, for all the road sees
of their occupants. They might as well be filled
with the forgotten, the never born, the never asked for,

the dead. If ever these people or ghosts
leave home, they are only going
to call upon other roads and fill their vehicles with diesel
and beef jerky. The road over Catawba Mountain
feels the vibration of sixty tires shimmying
up its back each day. That is only fifteen cars,
but, inevitably, one will carry a man who will pull over
near the top so he can hold himself in his hand

and shoot piss across the landscape like a star.
If you are one of those men, the road would like you to know
it is okay. There is nothing wrong with that.
There are less dignified things to do on a mountaintop
and few that feel more urgent. And for that day
you become a precious word in the mouth
of the road over Catawba Mountain, your name
cycling through its body: Joe Joe Joe,

it says, or Magnus Magnus Magnus. This is the way
ex-lovers think of you, if you were any good.
This is the way your mother will sing your name in grief
if you should die before her. This is the way the road
over Catawba Mountain remembers your body, the muscles
and fat and tendons that were once so close, for it misses you,
for its hold on the earth is tenuous and it knows you
are out there somewhere living.

D. M. Spratley is a Black, queer, Southern writer. She received her MFA from Hollins University. Her poems appear in Rattle and Drunken Boat, and she has received awards from Princeton University and Rattle. These poems belong to a completed chapbook manuscript, entitled Bloodroot. Find her on Twitter @dmsprat.