by Patricia L. Hamilton 

In memory of William Gay

The guest writer sidles in, half-empty long-neck
dangling from two fingers, compact frame
listing like a clapboard shotgun shack
that’s weathered too many ice storms.
His matted hair grazes his collar
like an aging rock star’s. Unpromising,
we think. He barely touches his meal,
his fingers restless, fiddling with the corner
of his napkin, tracing the straight edge
of his dinner knife over and over.

Later, at the reading, we’re stunned
by his mellifluous prose, dense and golden
as a jar of sun-warmed honey. Here is genius,
hidden behind the mask of a workman’s face,
taut cheeks smooth as Mexican leather,
murky eyes giving away nothing. His cadences
captivate us, pulling us into the magnetic field
of his hard-scrabble imagination. We lean in,
straining to hear when his voice softens
as if a volume knob is being turned down.

Then all words stop. He hunches over the lectern,
frozen, unblinking. Is this a fit of poetic ecstasy?
When the body seizes like an engine that sputters
just before it cuts out, what happens to the soul?
Does it flutter free from its moth-frail husk
to dash itself against some unseen white-hot light?
Are we witnessing a fierce electrical storm
rumbling across a dry plain, promising relief
from its cooling breeze, or an apocalypse,
the silent implosion of a dense, bright star?

Patricia L. Hamilton is a professor of English at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, where she has resided with her husband for 13 years. She received her Ph. D. from the University of Georgia. Her work has appeared in the Connecticut River Review, Broad River Review, Big Muddy, The Cumberland River Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal and The Southern Poetry Anthology: Tennessee. Her first volume of poetry, The Distance to Nightfall, was published by Main Street Rag in June. This poem is a tribute to the late Southern novelist William Gay, who was born October 27. 

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