McClanahan-Bendix RadioFor it will come to pass at some appointed hour, that you will sense from behind the pulled curtain of the room we share an agitation of the air, a perturbation of the light, and then a trickle of language, soft babbling you might first guess vaguely Pentecostal, until, breaking forth into raucous splendor, my voice—Proud Mary keep on burnin’—all it takes to paddle-wheel the riverboat of my past, splashing waves of every song I ever sang, amid the foaming ferment of recovered poems—glory be to god for dappled things that next to of course god America I have loved in no particular order or measure. Words I committed to memory before memory committed me, and lines from movies stacking up like vintage cars along the double features of summer nights, the metal speakers crackling out Shane! Shane! Come back… All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup… I’m walking here! I’m walking here! And now that I’m warmed up, I will begin like some bulbous-eyed Jeremiah to croak out my joy as my grandfather did at the end when he’d lost everything except everything he’d ever learned, not by rote but by heart. Heart, that patient, ancient teacher who refuses to give up on us, who stays us, steers us, batters us homeward, a four-chambered, three-person’d god who in these last moments resembles uncannily my first love, a Pat Boone lookalike—April Love, I whispered as we danced breast-close, the carnation he’d pinned to my dress bruising against his white sport coat, and my body upon his so quite a new thing, a body that don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies. And never would, though its heart like a wheel is still turning freely, so no need to call the nurse on duty, just let me go out bellowing from my deepest hollow drum the sound and unsound track of my briefly returning days.

Rebecca McClanahan has published ten books, most recently The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change and a revised edition of Word Painting: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively. The recipient of the Wood Prize from Poetry, a Pushcart Prize, and the Glasgow Award for nonfiction, McClanahan teaches in the MFA programs of Queens University (Charlotte) and Rainier Writing Workshop She was the 2015 Writer-in-Residence at Hollins University.

Artwork by Jeff Kallett