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. 

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