Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Birthday of Home

Away from home, my soul is weak and slivered,
and the world is big and cruel and bitter;
but, when I was home, the world was small, 
and I was so much bigger.

I was miserable in Missouri,
but I held on for too long:
there I stood; there I stayed.
I kept hoping tomorrow 
would be more like yesterday.
I kept trying to find a sign;
or, at least, the line
I was supposed to say.
Last night, 3:13, I sat up,
wide awake, in the middle of another night,
and suddenly I knew I wasn't 
going to be alright; I'd finally had enough:
I'd been counted out without a fight,
and my Missouri time was up.
So, I cashed in every last dime,
and packed my car just in time
to beat an ice storm moving west.

Southward lies home,
and the place of my birth.
And today is the birthday of coming home,
and the rebirth of green.

I dove down through Illinois
–  sorry to be leaving St. Louis,
but fickle, fidgeting, feeling newness.
Sorry for St. Louis, but glad; free
to be going home. Home is me.
Home is where I was when I was.
Away from home, I am some other
than the man I am when I am.
There lives my kin, my long lost brother.
There, I left my health, my self, 
my sisters, and my mother.
There lives my future past.
There lives me; away from home, I am some other
than the man I was when I was
baptized in the river.

In Tennessee, homeward bound,
and getting closer,
I repented winters present, passed
three hundred miles ago.
In Nashville, I slowed down,
and shivered; long winters held me, fast.
A long journey I've had till now;
the length I still feel.
I am broken yet: too broken yet to heal.

I grew weary at the wheel
at 2 a.m. in Johnson City,
and fell asleep in the parking lot
of a Gas and Run.
Next morn, I woke up with the Sun.
Like the prodigal, nervous, but hopeful,
I searched eastward anxiously
on a crumpled paper map.
I was searching, searching, searching:
for a short cut path back 
to my homeland; 
I was unaware -- how could I be? --
that home, long suffering, had 
long hence been searching for me.

I rolled down my broken window
and turned up the radio
just to stay awake;
Was it grace? or, was it fate?
I was too tired to debate.
And, besides, a George Strait song
was on. A George Strait 
song was on. And I was going
home, and a George Strait song
was on; so, I sung along.

An hour out of Franklin county,
I started to count change
for a cup of coffee, 
and ended up counting the cost
of friends gained, friends lost.
I didn't even have a dollar
for a single cup of java,
and my gas light blinked low;
I was running on fumes 
when I passed up the Chattanooga exit
at half past noon.
The friends lost remain,
and so does the pain.
For the first time, in a long time,
I took my foot off the pedal, and began to coast.
The friends lost I miss;
the friends gained, I miss most.
And what is home without the ones
you love most? My friends left home
when I did: even though they stayed
in all the same places; their faces fade
with every breath I take,
and every mile I travel:
no matter which direction I may go.
Such thoughts as these a tired mind harass;
even so, I put my foot
back firmly on the gas.
Perhaps I'll meet my old friends again
like new friends, as sparkling new men
with our sins forgiven, 
with a future, but no past.

I drove on weary eyed
(a smirk a heart broke disguised:
a sacrifice, I know, not in despise)
until, an hour out of Asheville,
I met a maze of misty mountains.
These mountains, they love to surprise;
they snuck up on all sides,
and then burst upon the canopy
of a surreptitious summer sky. 
Here they were; they had been, waiting 
for me for some time.
Here they were; here, at last, was I.
I laughed, and said, "Ah, friends!"
"Where have you been? Where did you go?"
said they, a little hurt it seemed. I sighed
and said, "I don't know. I really don't know."

And I remembered I was -- not quite,

but almost -- I was almost home.
And so I hit the road with  all my might
and drove the sun down that day,
and all through the night. 

Next morning, at 10 past 7, 

I pulled onto old Highway 11
as the Sun danced upward toward the heavens
in a manner warm and spritely.
In the new light, my old world surprised me:
something was different;
this world looked more lively
than I had ever seen her.
I was startled by the sight 
of green, and green, and greener.
All creation wore a garment
of a million shades of green to meet me.
"Did you fix up just for me?
Did you dress up just to greet me?"
I said. And, in reply, creation waved kind
salutations, but demanded explanations:
"Where have you been, my dear?"
she said. "Away," I answered, then
added, "but my heart was always here."
"Oh my," she said, and nearly wept,
"Look at you! Just look at you! You look a fright; 
your face is aged; your hair, frayed. 
Are you... are you quite alright?"
"I have," I said, "of late not been myself 
-- but nearer you, I am better."
She said, "You should have stayed." 
"True," I said, "but look at you! Just look at you! 
You have been remade!"

At a quarter past nine,
I crossed the state line into Caroline.
I was -- not quite -- but almost -- almost home:
a matter of minutes away.
And so I sat up, and put the petal
to the metal, and drove like a madman.
I swear, I could hear the birthday
song of home in the ripple of the rivers;
I could feel in my blood the good
wishes of the red hills.
I shouted, "Happy birthday! Here am I, at last!"
A sweet breeze of blessing kissed me,
and said, "O, how you have missed me!"

A mile out of Six Mile,
for the first time in a country mile, I smiled.
I was close-- not quite -- but almost-- almost
home. And a sense of joy filled my soul
from my fingers to my feet;
And a sense of solemn filled my heart
as I turned down my old street.
I drove on quickly, still too slow:
afraid, afraid even to speak;
afraid, afraid even, to turn on the radio.

"Where have you been?" I whispered,

mostly to myself. But, even as I spoke, 
I knew, there was no telling and no knowing.
"Where I've been is where I was;
home is where I''m going."

Away from home, my soul was weak and slivered,
and the world was big and cruel and bitter;
but, when I am home, the world is small, 
and I am so much bigger.

Southward lies home,
and the place of my birth.
And today is the birthday of coming home,
and the rebirth of green.

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