The Bloom, the Furnace, the Stars: An Elegy for Jake Adam York

William Wright and Adam Vines

A poem in commemoration of Jake Adam York’s passing in December 2012.

1.

Fire and metal, fire and metal:
I think of you now somehow in days
where work weeps far into dusk and mind’s

hard language drives horses
through pastures, saw and axe
to heartwood that burns oak-hours,

of something the color of storm
and shadow calm behind
your eyes, for this new life allows

you through nights where cold rain ticks
and tears woods you now can claim
your own, where creeks rush mica-flecked

and the water is Alabama and history
and the scars flowered, bleeding. And I think
of you camping there, imperceptible to anything

save what fire sees, stoking the embers
to brightness that cannot flicker or haunt
the contours of your face as snow falls

in this new time, history or future,
when sumac and steel
still burnish your mind to song,

a melody your mother’s mother knew,
a music that bears you past
the dimming embers of windows and pine

foothills, cornfields and furnaces,
wells and bones, where dogs bay for you
and you against the winter stars.

2.

Irises spike leaves,
and daffodils telescope
milky knuckles

way too early.
The Yoshino cherry
down the road has blushed
three times this winter.

Will spring mantle
this year with color?
The dogwood waits,
the oak-leaf hydrangea
and wild azalea, too.

Did your grandfather
launch his johnboat
and cast tuffies at stick-ups
for spawning crappie as mine did
when the dogwoods hawked
their bracts and stamens?

3.

Outside or in, the stars still scald
the green and gold-green of grass
that lives, ripens through frost

like your words: stoke and millhouse,
molten and the rumor of fire and how
the deep force of earth grinding under

our silences transfixed you,
the land’s own syllables you rehearsed
and blazed into more minds you could

have known: The furnace blooms
beyond itself, fire doused into a hiss
of leaves and hornets’ nests:
The smoke never clears.

4.

Yesterday, snow,
not stars, fell on Alabama,
but on my slow jam home

over Red Mountain behind a streak
of bread-and-milk-stocked cars
chocked by a “field of white,”

I can’t keep from humming
the tune over and over,
replacing stars with snow.

Tomorrow, I would have driven past
Tuxedo Junction where Erskine Hawkins
might have brassed those stars
seventy-five years ago in Ensley

and over viaducts beneath which
hoggers haven’t hung rails with black snakes
or pig iron cars in decades and foundry molds
haven’t flushed orange for just as long—

and on to the sticks, through hollers
where my kin ripped seams of coal
and piled spoils in rippling rows,
heeling pulp pines in their stead—

and on to Beat 10 of the Warrior River
where fish camps outnumber churches,
where a man stepping on another man’s land
might see a lightning still hunkered into a bank
or just how deep that river channel is—

and on to the dirt road’s end
where Vineses crawled out of the river,
where I would have cut and split
a seasoned turkey oak for your visit
and piled rocks for a pit closer to the slough,

so when we would have run
and re-livered that trotline by the skinny moon,
we’d have fire close when we skulled
back to the bank. Then over a skillet
of skeeting willow cat fillets,

I would have mentioned the rendition
still stuck in my head even today—
Fitzgerald and Armstrong’s—
and the absurd snow, and you would have gone on
about you, an Alabama privet switch,
driving through Colorado on winter days.

And I bet I would have learned from you
on that night that will never be
what I had to learn on my own today,
that Holiday and Coltrane flirted through
that number, too, and the song owes its breath
to the 1833 Leonids meteor shower,

“the night the stars fell.” And I imagine
you would have said what I am thinking now:
that a shower of ’33 happens only once
every couple of lifetimes,
and even then it won’t happen
if you ain’t paying attention.

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