Open Histories by Jeremy B. Jones
In the days when the Queen
Anne’s Lace springs up as if from nowhere
to float like untethered buoys
atop the hayfield, my cousin hauls
his history book down the hill
to the barn and opens it up
with a shotgun.
In its center, he leaves a ragged portal,
a spyglass through which one can see
the rust overtaking the hay rake
and the summer-hot sun cooking
the fields and the dried-up spring that once satisfied
our people. The truth is that not even this report
from a shotgun can speak
of how he hated that book, how it pulled
down his back with its never-ending
pages of dates and deaths, all of America penned
But he now feels the lightness, the freedom
from The Americans, feels the wide arms of life
beyond high school and hayfields, beyond
this barn and this bottomland. He can’t know now
that his pack will soon weigh down with a tourniquet
and chemlights and baby wipes, that even on his back
covered in Iraqi darkness, his stripped-down body will feel
the weight of an M-4 and grenades and night
optics hours after he has laid them down.
He can’t know that beneath the heavy heat
of day—one eye pinched shut, the other trained
through the scope—he will imagine that the circle
focusing his vision upon paper targets or shifty-eyed elders
as a blasted-open 12th-grade textbook along the creek
our people drifted upon a century ago,
and he will whisper
history and shoot.
Or not shoot. Then
he will come home again.
Jeremy B. Jones is the author of the memoir Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland, which was named the 2014 Appalachian Book of the Year in nonfiction and awarded gold in the Independent Publisher Book Awards in memoir. His essays and poems appear in Oxford American, Brevity, The Iowa Review, Appalachian Heritage, and elsewhere, and he co-edits the book series In Place, from West Virginia University Press. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Iowa, Jeremy serves as an associate professor of English at Western Carolina University.