Song of the South: Heart of Brick and Stone

Another recent poem of mine which I hope blesses you.




Heart of Brick and Stone

fayetteville nc markethouseIn the center

of the small army town where I was reared

stands a brick building I heard called a “market house” –

well, heard called that by people like me,

people with their lily white skin aglow,

their accents as southern as red clay and swaying tobacco fields

yet which friends bussed into school from the next neighborhood over

called “the slave market”

Their parents, unlike mine, could never forget

not even for a moment

how, not so long ago,

little boys like their little ones playing with me on the bus

would have stood shackled like common criminals,

their dark skin shining like polished obsidian

under the oppressive heat of our blistering southern sun,

while they were hawked to the highest bidder

like  handmade pottery fresh from the kiln  or worn out mule,

not someone’s baby boy in whom the sacred fires burn.


It was up one of the many small roads

Slave in chains which flowed like a rivulet form the traffic circle

surrounding this symbol of southern life

not just here but throughout every Carolina hillside

from the dunes of Hatteras to the lofty peaks of Mount Mitchell

not just in my Sandhills but everywhere our life together

is built on the sweat of those without a voice

as far from Dixie’s rolling fields as  the flowing Potomac,

as the Hudson resounding with its maritime music,

even under the ever dancing aurora lights of Alaskan winter,

It was up just such a road

where I first saw a woman born as a  man

in a tight leather skirt,  offering her own wares too.

Her face was lined with her own interlocking roads of sorrow

dug out by years of pilgrimages I still cannot grasp

made under the crushing weight of a southern chivalry

which made no space for one such as her.

white frame churchMy parents tried to look away from her

and urged us not to turn our head

lest we saw her too

as we sped away from that city center

in our finest dresses, suits, and ties

to the house of God, the tabernacle of the almighty


It is up a road that meanders away from those brick walls,

over a hill and around the bend, where I first earned my bread,

my first dollars I could call my own earned

by my own sweat and labor,

groceriesas I bagged groceries and mopped floors at the Carlie C’s

that tiny empire Rusty Brock ruled with his own iron fist

This is the same neighborhood store

where I first saw the spark of desire in a coworker’s eye

as he turned to see  young men in short shorts lining up to buy their evening’s libations.

I finally  understood what all that fuss was about

when the soldiers up and down  all our town’s busy streets

that flowed out from this ancient center like so many rushing tributaries

together with my uncles lounging beside the one room white trim sanctuary

of our Primitive Baptist ancestors, complained

at family reunion bout “them queers”


Up the hill from this tattered shrine of commerce

I met my first real love,

first kissexchangeing my first kiss,

intoxicated with warm moonshine of infatuation

which set my body afire, clouding my mind with rapture


It was just around its corner

I first sat, at the tender age of sixteen,

beside a dear friend while,

tears in their eyes, they faced the chance

sitting vigiltheir mother’s sudden headache might snatch her life away,

all at the same hospital where I later sat vigil

over someone dear as she lay, still as a corpse,

surrounded by the whir and beep of machines

after, in her 20s and my own, she took all her pills in hand,

swallowing them like so much poisoned candy,

in hopes of escaping the weighty pressure

our south-land’s polite niceties

place like so many lacey shackles

upon the shoulders of a young woman

longing to not be another southern belle

but something fiercer

someone more afire with life


It is on the steps of this house of chains,

still echoing with the pieces of silver

judas silverdropped in every Judas’ hands

of those who sought to sell souls for profit,

that I stood arm and arm with a wizened life-worn veteran

of our costly wars and my Quaker

friend complete with white beard and piercing eyes

a soldier in his own bearing

carrying in his own soul

scars from his own swordless war for peace

his battle for guns to be beaten into garden hoes,

while my dear rabbi friend,

now long gone from the circles of this world,

stood with me surrounded by the encircling paths of southern life

with its honking horns,

crying children,

twang of banjo strings,

army drumbeats falling in  rhythm

with the echoing thud of bodies

felled by every gunshot blast

our addiction to scapegoating and violence

offer heartlessly on the altar

of southern gentility,

all of them crying out together

with this Gospel preacher

and with the voices of those who’ve shut their hearts’ doors

to all old time religion with its sawdust trails,

all crying out with one voice,

“never again.”


amendment one protest 2

Our voices rose like the call of the katytids in summer,

like the whippoorwill song,

like the thunder and hammering rain on tin roofs

in Carolina summer showers,

like the earthquakes I woke to as a boy

like the earth trembling from gun drills at the army base

which lay way up the hill from that brick heart of our common life,

calling out for all to see the sacred fire in every soul,

no longer smearing the queer,

nor lynching little black boys upon swingsets

and with handcuffs in the back of police cars,

no longer leaving battered eye and broken bones

among women locked in relationships that tear apart their souls


amendment one protest 1

This is me joining with Rabbi B. Z. Jernigan, a long time GLBT rights advocate in Fayetteville, NC, to speak out for marriage equality.

We are not there yet,

but I do know it is also, within steps of that abandoned bazaar of souls

that I returned, along the long and winding paths from my big city home, years later

to stand before men and women

who until then had been locked out of announcing their love,

speaking over them the ancient words of promise,

proclaiming not just “your love is blessed”,

but “but by the power vested in me by our dear state”.

As I did so, I looked up at the vexing aging ziggurat

that causes us to stumble

and calls us to repent

deep in the heart of my hometown, and I wondered.

Could it be, such hearts can change

and stories be remade?

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.


One thought on “Song of the South: Heart of Brick and Stone

  1. T Chedore says:

    Beautifully and powerfully written!

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