by Hannah Chapin
The South I called home but by some
Escher-like trick of space I both lived there
and was also standing at the window,
looking in. It seemed
more comfortable out there,
the accent settled into my ears
but not my mouth,
my teeth aching
at the tea’s sweetness,
by pastels and worship,
I felt like a polite guest, never quite
making myself at home even though
I was born and raised in that house.
In the mysterious path of growing up and out
The moment you step away from a place
It becomes where you’re from
and with each step I took North
I rested my weight on bones
that grew in the South.
Bones are hidden by flesh, almost forgotten,
until the X-rays of visitation
surprise me. Walking through
the thick summer
I find an intimacy with place
that catches me off guard,
noticing the smallest moments
that only a lover or old friend
would find reassuringly familiar.
I know how the air slips past my arms
as they swing through finally-almost cool
nights, washed by the chorus of
cicadas and peepers, leapfrogging
my shadow in the streetlights,
walking on the still-warm road
because who thought of sidewalks back then.
I know how the needles of a loblolly pine,
So conveniently bundled in threes,
twist as you braid them.
Their ridged spines
curling for a bored girl
just as they do for this woman
waiting for the baby to wake.
I know how when
watching night thunderstorms
from the back of a pickup truck,
the momentary light illuminating
every dogwood berry,
bathed by the smell of damp pine
and clay and cement,
you cringe with anticipation
at the stifled first sound of thunder.
Were you to ask me I could tell you
how jewelweed pods
explode when you pinch them
just right and that your hand will jump back
in joyful surprise the first time,
and maybe the third.
I could tell you how to roll your weight
just so across your bare foot to
avoid coming down hard on
a sweetgum ball or pinecone.
The pinecones hurt more, I’d caution.
Were you to ask I could explain
how to be from the South
If not how to be Southern.
The convenience of embracing
origin without identity
validating both my history
and my ambivalence.
A visitor with southern bones
and mossy northern flesh can slip free.
A Southerner just might want to stay.
Hannah Chapin (she/her) is a science educator and artist living in the Pacific Northwest. She is always looking for ways to help her hold onto the beauty in the world. Follow her on Instagram @noticings_.