James Autry: Two Poems

December 14, 2012

In a digital-exclusive, poet James Autry talks about and reads two of his works — “Leaving Mississippi” and “Ronald’s Dance.” You can find print versions of both poems below.

Leaving Mississippi

Part of my never left
and another part is always leaving,
leaving Mississippi but never gone.
“Jimmy when you gonna come on back
down home,” my people ask,
and I cannot say, “Never,
I’ve found my home somewhere else”
any more than I can say my home
was never in the State of Mississippi
but in the community of it,
in my father’s churches,
in Abel’s store,
in Ashland on the square,
in how the people were together.
Now that home is gone forever from Mississippi–
yet it is with me still,
in the fall smell of wood smoke
from some suburban chimney,
in an Atlanta taxi driver’s turn of phrase,
in the quiet of an old church in Bavaria,
in the call of an Iowa night hawk,
in a fish breaking the surface of a Colorado stream,
in the night peepers everywhere
in a stanza of Amazing Grace,
in the crickets,
in dust.

Ronald’s Dance
Only he and I know that he is Gene Nelson
in Oklahoma; to everyone else
he is the strange kid dancing,
wild jerky arms swinging
spinning stomping jumping and twirling,
while the other dancers clap and laugh,
some with him some at him,
and I am seized by that terrible sense
of discovery and loss that accompanies
every new thing I see Ronald do.
Even now while in his mind everyone is celebrating
the exuberance and abandon of Gene Nelson
dancing on top of the railroad cars
I can’t forget
that the train is pulling out of the station.

Watch Autry and other poets read from their work at our “Poets in Performance” page.

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