Southern Bones

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,

vaguely perplexed 

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_.