HomeSouthern VoiceMidway & Helena Bound

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.

Fast-talking strangers played host

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.   

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  • John / April 10, 2013

    Beautifully Southern on both counts — lovely imagery!

  • Lynn Sewell / April 11, 2013

    Beautiful! Stirs memories.

  • Ernest Hollaway / April 24, 2013

    Both poems are filled with nostalgia. Have travelled those roads, seen the rice fields, felt the sting of mosquitoes, and watched the shacks crumble.