Elegy of the Lying Woods

Elegy of the Lying Woods

by Jacob Cannon

“Little dark sheep, how art thee?

Can’t thou hear? Can’t thou see?

Little dark sheep, do tell me

Tale of the Hillbilly’s Elegy.”

 

Born on clay in wild

My father grew old running

On land I can and could not tend.

O pity me, little dark sheep,

Led wayward entranced by

Dixieland’s sweet grace; pulled

To by syrup-smooth drawls

Calling me by Christian names.

 

I, just a sapling in our family’s

Lying Woods, shoot skyward

into air, sprawling roots across

Our family’s promised land.

And in these years, I learn

Of father who art in heaven,

And of man’s inheritance:

A land too perfect for his kind.

 

“Little dark sheep, how art thee?

Can’t thou hear? Can’t thou see?

Little dark sheep, do tell me

Tale of the Hillbilly’s Elegy.”

 

Each Revolution stirs me

In Autumn; dragging the orange

Anger through my blood.

I feast conflicted next to

Mary, Michael, Bobby, Charles

And beloved Betty-Jean.

So miserably tempted to spoil

Their hopes of my soul’s convictions.

 

But never do I speak the elegy,

For the flock speaks not of

Blues, and greys, and blacks.

Their supposed memories

Twist truth, from cotton red

To cotton white, never

Learning beyond their first breath,

The innocence they laid to waste.

 

“Little dark sheep, how art thee?

Can’t thou hear? Can’t thou see?

Little dark sheep, do tell me

Tale of the Hillbilly’s Elegy”

 

For too long a tired time

I did not dare to level truths

Of histories untold in our flock,

Histories found in the Lying Woods.

For when I question the collective,

The elders impose wrinkles

Like rings ‘round trunks

As evidence of wisdom pure.

 

The Sunday schools inspire in them

Concerts of confidence, hushing all

The rhythmic comedies I find

Maiming our former hands still.

And O, how I warn thee:

“Please! Betray not your ears,

For the devil fiddles down

South, where the peaches ripen.”

 

“Little dark sheep, how art thee?

Can’t thou hear? Can’t thou see?

Little dark sheep, do tell me

Tale of the Hillbilly’s Elegy”

 

But where do they hide

The corpses of their reason gone?

In what failed garden do these bodies

Decompose? For it appears

They continue only to feed the trees

In the Lying Woods.

I cannot tend a land so putrid,

And will surely tell my kin so.

 

“Salts of Earth reject thee!”

For winds of change move all

But chronicles of their Mortmain’s

Estate. Where my body decays

Far from its urban dwelling.

My flock wander not where

I go, but where I ought to,

Leaving me to their maggots.

 

“Little dark sheep, how art thee?

Can’t thou hear? Can’t thou see?

Little dark sheep, do tell me

Tale of the Hillbilly’s Elegy”

 

Rotting, feeding dirt by way

Of the truths deep forgotten

Inside my tomb, I have now

Perished; a tree fell by

Its own caretakers. But just

Beyond my reactionary homeland

Lay a paradise of cerebral calm:

O empirical land! Deliver me once more!

 

Born again, unto myself

Into the halls of ever-evolving

Semantic dancing. Teach me,

The fallen tree, your newest ways.

For now, I am free from the ground

That nurtured my most murderous bent.

Let me collude freely with numbers,

And sense with ears and eyes born anew.

 

“Little dark sheep, how art thee?

Thou now hear! And thou now see!

Little dark sheep, did tell me

Tale of the Hillbilly’s Elegy.”

 

A note from the poet:

This poem provides commentary on the darker side of my family’s past, and how I grapple with it. The poem begins in music describing me as an outcast within my family, and then addresses the expectations and feelings fabricated by southern charm, and more specifically, my family’s history. I don’t feel that I am suited for the “land” my father was raised on, and I discuss the early teachings of my youth, which consisted of Christianity and a deep reverence for an Earth perfectly made for us. I then go on to briefly describe my Thanksgiving tradition, where our entire family will meet and feast at our shared land in rural Georgia. I must erect political and religious walls between myself and my family in order to maintain some level of peace, and this leads me to an “orange anger,” which I would describe as an anger restrained by some conflict of interest, in this case, familial love. At first, I never speak to my relatives about our differences, because I know they ignore the dark history of the confederacy and the south, namely slavery. But eventually, I work up enough courage to argue reasonably with my family, however, I’m always judged because of my age and position within the family rather than the integrity of my ideals and thought processes. Part of this judgment includes the utter rejection of my credibility and morality by some of my family members whom I refer to as “Salt of the Earth,” and this judgment makes me feel trapped amongst stagnant ideas bound to my family, for what is seemingly forever (Mortmain comment.) After having finally gathered the gumption to face my familial disagreements, I “perish,” finally feeling free, and as if I have the agency to align myself with a new school of thought. I mention the “halls of semantic dancing” as a reference to high-brow logic and academia not necessarily because I consider myself to be aligned with them, but because my family most likely does.

Photo by Sophia Liu