APPLE BLOSSOM SCENIC DRIVE
No frayed edges like yarn in pockets, just water
seeping into backwater, lapping at trees, and the bluffs
like something sleeping—green in the summer
fading to gray with white trim. Always we'd drive,
Grandma and I, in the winter, and pull to the sides
of highways to take pictures of ice—the frozen swashes
stuck to cut faces of rock, the streams that shimmered
as semis rushed past. Icicles the size of legs or torsos
stood stationary in their silence, turning gray
from highway grit, but still magnificent to me, then,
as if the clouds had lowered themselves overnight
and left fingerprints. In the shadowy valleys,
amid the mounds I had learned to name for their humps,
trains shook narrow houses and blew their horns
three times into darkness to sing in their way
to the branches of trees, the black river, the barges—
everything linked it its ecology, following
the rules. Which is why I remember so much,
and so little: my grandmother in her living room,
light through the blinds lifting hair, her hands
unclasped, waiting, as if aware of the sadness
she has yet to give or the sadness I have yet to know.
Though maybe I did sense it, even then, when I took
the pictures: her in the living room, not ready to move
from her chair; the trees in the orchards that lined
the bluffs like small lights. Those afternoons,
she'd drive and we'd stop and sometimes she'd come out
but more often she'd stay in the car, give me
the quietness—the worn posts near the overlooks,
blackened with tar, the line of the wire.
I'd hold the camera in chapped hands and watch
the river below work its way through silt and sludge.
The grasses raised their stalks as if opening
themselves to winter, and because I was twelve
I opened myself, too—let the whistle of the train echo
the beat of my heart, let leaves swallow me in yellow.
My grandma would move again, and then again, but still
I store these pictures in drawers, return to press my forehead
against passenger windows, crane my neck to see the tops
of the bluffs, as if I could become small and somehow holy.
Jennifer Case's essays, poetry, and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Zone 3, North American Review, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, English Journal, Poet Lore, and Stone Canoe, which awarded her work the 2014 Allen and Nirelle Galson Prize in Fiction. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas and is the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of Terrain.org.