Joe Stockdale, a native Hoosier, has lived in Robbinsville (Graham County) and Andrews (Cherokee County), North Carolina, and has spent many a delightful hour bouncing up and down on the Nantahala River in Swain County. Joe has also lived and worked in Saudi Arabia. He currently lives in Asheville.
The night before deployment, I drove
up the Cherohala Skyway. Just below
Spirit Ridge, I caught a bear in my headlights.
It loped ahead of me up the road,
and before my foot could think to slow,
it ingloriously crashed off into the trees.
I had a bad feeling.
Sure enough, later that night
up on Huckleberry Knob,
that bear rampaged through my campsite,
just tore it all to hell,
before leaping into the sky,
over the Great Smokies.
And then I was gone.
My Appalachian song,
of bald, birch, beech, branch, and spring
came to reside in the desert,
where it took root
in sand, wadis, sebkha,
and hellish dust devils,
amidst wild dogs, dung beetles,
camel spiders, lizards and adders.
At Ras Al Gar, waiting for the Storm,
my brothers and I fought scorpions
in crucibles of sand, for sport,
betting on which scorpion
would murder its brother, and win.
But never could I shake the sense
of the ruddy presence of Scorpius,
reproaching us in ruby forbearance
from that brilliantly sober Saudi night sky.
Now I'm home and have fled
far from wife, family and friend.
I've drunk and fished my way down
Big Santeetlah Creek,
on a bellyful of specs and potatoes.
Overhead, faint Eridanus wanders south,
in a great bend, like the one the Tuckaseegee takes
past its holy confluence with the Oconaluftee.
And through the trees I'm admiring Perseus:
The arrowhead of the Cherokee.
Pure, clean, familiar, and deathly cold,
the stream rolls by my tawny boots:
As I, with eyeballs imprinted by the stars,
contemplate Distance and Eternity.