David Lohrey

Down Home

“I’m walking in Memphis.”
Yeah, right.
Memphis is a lot of things but a walking city it is not.
Too humid. Too violent. Too dull.
Great place to own a car. 

Who walks around Memphis?
Reminds me of Ray Bradbury strolling around
Beverly Hills. He got stopped by the police.
They thought he was an escapee from the mental

Memphis is not Strasburg. It is not Kyoto.
Don’t let Cher fool you.
She’ll tell you all about walking in Memphis,
(followed by a couple of body guards).
There’s a reason everyone moved out East.

Wake up. Nostalgia stands in the way of progress.
The trees are gone. People don’t plant corn in their front
yards. Not only are there no victory gardens; there
are no more victories. Walking in Memphis, desperate
to call 911. Got a flat and am scared to death.

Out to Wildwood Farms. Out to a new three-bedroom
built on the Taylor’s polo fields. Out near one of the old
sharecropper’s shacks. Out to where Doc Wilkenson used
to have Jed shuck oysters on a Sunday afternoon.
Out to where the McFadden’s had a place. 

Boys rode mules out on Germantown Road. Dad’d grab 
a beer on Poplar and take us out on a country drive. 
The shacks were still standing, not the Taj Mahal. No
McMansions yet, not with 7 bedrooms, 9 baths, and a 5-car

Only blacks walk in Memphis. A lone fellow, three-hundred
pounds, in a bright red shirt, trudging along in 90-degree
heat. On his way to nowhere, just back from somewhere
else. Yes, let Cher sing a song about this: the food deserts,
the deserted bowling alleys, and the abandoned malls.  

Yes, it has come to that. Memories of ten-cent burgers and
shop-lifting at the Piggly-Wiggly. Standing on boxes of Tide
to have a burger at Montesi’s. Hiding in tractor tires at Firestones 
across from East High. We went walking in Memphis once a year: 
Halloween night, ate our candies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

It’s over. All that’s left is the heat. Nobody misses Yellow Fever,
the Cotton Carnival, the cobblestones, not even the Delta Queen.
Everybody misses Elvis, they say, the pink Caddy, the desperate
girls lined up at his gate, claiming only to want a glimpse but 
wanting a whole lot more. Nobody’s going anywhere anymore. 

Honeysuckle Tribute

There can be bebop and billowing skirts,
      hot pastrami and cold beer, but only if 
          we’re good as gold.

That’s the catch. We’re weighed down by doubt.
      Can all this wonder be had for free? It’s
         time to take stock.
All the pretty horses can’t put humpty dumpty 
      together again. It’s partly a matter of will 
         power, sure.

It’s mostly a matter of power, pure and simple.
      And the will is half-hearted. There’s no
         fire, no zeal. There’s no roll.

Ketchup, yes, but no mustard. There are eggs, but
      Benedict died last June of a stroke. Whoever
         said we could have it all, lied.

The billowing skirts were not the first to go, but
      the girl must remove the polish from her nails. 
         She’s been recruited by the army.

Now Bobo and Sherri carry guns. Our next loss is jazz.
      Without the blues, there’s no rhythm. The 
         country has lost its beat.

Everyone is out of step. The problem is not the booze.
      It’s the money. We’re all too rich for our own
         good. We’re unhappy. Just look at Bobo and Sherri Price.

Louis Armstrong was elated.  Count Basie, giddy. 
      Think back. You remember. Jazz was rollicking: horns 
         toot-tooting, the pianist on his feet, the drums exploding.

We’re all miserable. Fattened up for slaughter. Now
      we wait for the other shoe to drop, as the centipede
         crawls toward the exit.

We know it’s just a matter of time. It can’t go on like this forever. 
      We’ve become too refined, far too delicate, too fat for
         good music. Honeysuckle don’t grow on trees.

No one has the oomph. It’s all petered out. We’re out of gas.
      There’s no get up and go. There’s an energy shortage, 
         you know.

For the most part, pictures will be enough, for a while,
      like those of farmers. Nobody wants to get his hands dirty, 
         digging in flower beds, plowing, changing diapers.

No one wants to turn potatoes, feed the pigs or geld the stallions. 
      What is there to celebrate if there are no children?
         That’s the question.

If there’s no harvest, what’s the point of drinking? And
      now they say there’s no purpose in planting flowers.
         The suburbs are obsolete, no pleasure in squirrels.

No need for dogs to bark. No need for evening walks. No
      need for games of catch. Eliminate the lawns, they decree,
         which are nothing more than symbols of privilege.

There’ll be nothing to remember, not even the sound of babies crying. 
      Family life is finished. Dirty floors, mother’s milk, chicken pox
         are all a thing of the past. 

Now the smell of grass must go. It’s no longer the Age of Aquarius; 
      it’s the age of exhaustion. We’re entering America’s very own 
         Cultural Revolution. At the end of the day, they’ll be hell to pay.

It’s the age of recrimination. People stand around pointing fingers,
      as at the time French women were made to pay for bedding
         enemy soldiers. They were driven through the streets, naked.

It’s an age of exculpation. We all want to wash our hands of it.
      The only music left is what we demand to see others face.
         Otherwise we want silence. 

David Lohrey is from Memphis. His poems can be found in All the Sins, Dead Mule School, Dodging the Rain, Southword Journal, and Delta Poetry Review. His fiction appears in Terror House, Storgy, and Literally Stories. David’s first collection of poetry, Machiavelli’s Backyard, was published in 2017. His newest collection of fiction and poetry, Bluff City, appeared in 2020, published by Terror House Press. His latest, Low and Behold, will appear next year in January.
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