Home for Christmas, I decided to visit the old brick house
on Virginia State Highway 626 to see where Granny—Orelia—
had lived as a girl.
I pulled Mama’s Ford into a ditch dug by the power company
to lay cable. They had put a high fence
around the house to keep out trespassers.
I was no intruder.
I came from here.
Baked brick house still stood here in Bedford County,
though caved in and haunted.
I never knew Witcher Ferguson or Virgie Mae Whitworth, my great
grandparents. I would come later.
The upstairs room is where Mama and her sister and cousins
slept when visiting from the city.
In the middle of the floor was their pot to piss in.
No running water. No damned electricity. No bathroom.
Just a strong house.
Behind it stood a tobacco-curing shed
that in Mama’s day had become a pantry.
Mason jars still lined the walls and metal lids
made rusty sediment on the floor.
Down a path of thorns and dead leaves stood the barn,
covered in kudzu–the Virginia creeper
that sneaked over all and choked the past.
Once inside the barn, looking out
through cracks in the crooked door,
I saw Witcher’s ghost coming down the path swinging
a pail to milk ghost cows.
He didn’t see the power company
coming up fast behind to zap his children away.
As I slipped out through a hole in the grey old wall
I heard Virgie calling me through the dead-leaf breeze.
I heard it.
In forgotten stalks of hay strewn yellow
behind the barn I found a deer carcass,
ribs picked clean by maggots and heart half eaten.
Frosted air didn’t keep it from smelling.
Degraded venison mixed sweet and sour
with milkweed and stinkweed and pine,
filling my lungs. And somewhere
through the retreating leaves Virgie still called
The woods grew thick beyond the trellis
of ribs so I turned back.
Gazing into the trees across the highway
I remembered the story.
Great, great Grandaddy–Virgie’s daddy–Jerry
and his brother Tom found a rusted civil war
musket one hot July afternoon.
Eighteen and eighty-something.
Being mischievous chaps, they decided to make it