Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby


Clay Matthews has published work in The American Poetry Review, Spinning Jenny, Willow Springs, The JournalMuffler (H_NGM_N B_ _KS) and Western Reruns (available for free download online from End & Shelf Books). His first full-length collection, Superfecta, was released by Ghost Road Press in 2008, and a second, Runoff, was recently released from BlazeVOX Books. He teaches at Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tennessee, and edits poetry for The Tusculum Review.


The junior-high football team takes the field down the road.
     A train whistles to start it all.

Down the road, they wash them windows.
     Down the road, a little bit of supper burns.

Out back sits a pile of wood I need to burn,
     wood from an old deck, the innards
of an old camper, the rotten floor of an old boat.

Old is the theme around here.

The half-time speech. The chimes go off on the clock.

I told my wife last night, that one day, if we have a little land
     in the country, with the barn and animals and all that get-up,
          I’d like to have my own little junkyard.

     Oh, honey, she says.

Sometimes my dreams seem strange to me.

Cheerleaders cheer. Little boys get down into a stance
     and shake all over.

Men, the coach says. Men, failure
     is not an option.

Words to live by, I suppose.

                    The fall comes on now.

The rooster crows, and sometimes I want to huddle the neighborhood
     kids up and say Boys, failure
          is imminent, but try to do it all better
than your old men,
     pour your little sweet guts and hopes into everything.

Mostly, I am the neighbor that does not speak.
     I wave by the garden, I wave by the burn pile, I wave
to Lon Gene on his riding mower and I am not trusted
     around here, being quiet, not knowing
          what to say.

The mums start to explode. The morning
     glories open, and close, and Whitman is at a window
somewhere right now, mumbling through his beard: metaphysics.

Young and old, men and boys, and what am I?

The pronouns are vacuous, they are everything,
     I am nothing, I am this strong beam
                    I hang some pictures on.

Oh, goodness.
               Oh, me.

Instead of walking down to the game for a hot dog
     we take a long drive through the country.

Through the hollows, the back roads filled with trailers
     and beautiful log cabins and old trucks decomposing
under kudzu and vine and mountain fog.

We stop at this gas station we love, because the people are real
     to us there, the food hot, the tater-tots crispy, there’s always
a pie or cake homemade from some woman in town.

     A middle-aged man comes in, grabs a bottle of milk,
and asks for a slice with extra icing, the sugar
     something he takes to be alone with for a while and eat.

The cashier eats her chicken sandwich. We share
     the last of the French fries.

The world hums with the ceiling exhaust and we are quiet,
     for a bit, listen while we slowly move our mouths.

Outside someone takes a smoke break. Inside someone
here is falling to pieces, and none of us will ever know the better.

     At home, I keep my high school letter jacket
in the closet. In the basement there are boxes
     full of old things that mark places I once was: the child me,
          the teenage me, the young-adult me.

From the side it looks like the cashier
     has a baby on the way, but about some things
it is too soon to be sure.

The night comes on, and, having no lights at their small stadium,
     the players rush through the motions,
they get lost in a series of signals and whistles.

Another train comes through. Another leaf falls down.

I turn the engine over and hurry down the road, wanting
     to get us home, trying, for some reason,
to get there with the last of the natural light.