Midway & Helena Bound
a pair of poems by Terry Minchow-Proffitt
Once Mohawk Rubber and Doughboy Plastic
closed shop, the carnival bucketed into town,
a shaman’s grin with neon teeth.
to our drubbed daddies, the shamefaced lost
yet to make a move but would
bygod tonight, first lured
then warned not to lean too far
over this last ditch of a chance.
You snarl, “That’s only cotton candy,
just spun sugar and food coloring”
and expect me to blush, but life was hard
to beat that late-summer night
when I burned to lag in line
and watch this girl about my age
hold a cigarette out from her hip
and stir the empty heat into a hive of pink
with a paper wand and a sole smile.
No, it did not last, not even one trip
around the midway, only a honeyed
moment within a knot of light,
a woolly pinch, the sticky instant
on the tip of the tongue—
then gone, gone. That’s the magic,
a million imaginings rising from a tad
of immanence swaddled by the whole
spin and scent of the minstrel night.
On a plane from Dallas to Memphis
you might close your laptop in time
to look down on our clutched bouquet,
petals spinning wayward color against the black.
The Tilt-A-Whirl’s playing Deep Purple,
but you can’t hear, just watch
what’s small and passing, pleasing,
one more immensity measured
as wanting before you land.
Southbound Highway 1 to Helena,
the black Arkansas Delta fans out flat.
Dusk reaches from wooded edges
to shadow thin rows of green taken
still by what fire the day holds.
I have been down this way before, small
eyes playing stern with the cambered
two-lane before me, all the while having slipped
the blacktop, waylaid by what the heart keeps at—
the levee beyond Crowley’s Ridge to the east
so far holds fast the fitful Mississippi’s crest,
crooked-line haze in the west, red-ball sun wavering low,
power-lines drape the roadside, stitched cross by haggard cross,
the train-vacant tracks.
Medieval reckoning says 22,560
atoms inhabit this hour.
A banana-yellow crop duster
dips low and tags the last
of April’s welter—jonquils, daffodils,
tulips and forsythia jut and whorl
from the ditchbanks and fencelines of
small white houses with scant yards
specked by dandelions—then banks
off, a spewed mist in the dot’s parting.
Amber lavers the land and hovers,
daredevil’s last magic
before calling it a day.
By evening I’d hoped to have learned
even a little about all this carrying on, what lives
here that can’t be left or rooted out,
this … this … this …
packs the chest tissue taut,
more press than can be slaked
by where I’m going but can’t get,
my raising that leaves me still
taken decades later, knowing
that that plywood sheet
nailed across the storefront window
on Cherry Street is not the saddest thing
I ever saw, but for the 1000th time
I forget what is.
Terry Minchow-Proffitt now lives in a beige house in suburban St. Louis but grew up in West Helena, Arkansas. His poems have appeared in Desert Call, The Oxford American and The Christian Century. His muse and mentor for years was a brown leghorn rooster named Red. Sadly, Red’s now moved on to a better place, leaving Terry to carry on as best he can.