Saleem Hue Penny
Throwing rocks at squirrels
behind Mr. Joe’s two-pump gas station,
church pants rolled up to our knees.
We only sneaked enough from the collection plate to split one soda.
Muttering beneath the scolding afternoon sun,
you complain that it’s “Africa hot.”
Images of barren plains,
scattered groves of knotted trees,
gnarled shrubs punctuating the dust.
Ants the size of pecans, the only living creatures able to find purpose in the cracked ground.
So hot, the clay beads on the women’s necklaces might leave burn marks,
the hide on the men’s loincloths can almost come back to life.
Cheetahs, leopards, elephants,
all we know of life across that ocean.
In these United States,
heat breeds hate and births secession.
Prepares the bearer for bruises and burns;
its legacy survival and defiance.
That’s why I don’t fear grandma’s lash tonight.
Swift willow strokes slicing sunset,
startling a flutter of lightning bugs,
our ashy backsides a flicker with falling stars.
crisscrosses of welcome and warning,
a map of intersecting deer paths and creek forks,
clues and curses,
My cousin wails and decides to dodge the blows,
then worse, tries to outrun the inevitable.
Zigzagging like a neckless chicken
from the porch, through the front yard, towards our tree house.
Out of breath at the bottom of the rope ladder,
sobbing because he may never reach the promised land.
Finally, I hit a squirrel.
Savoring the victory, I watch the sun sulk towards the river.
Unlike the customers that use the front door,
we don’t expect our skin to protect us.
In the distance, the moon prepares its ascent,
smiling quietly because it knows who will win the war.
Like a bugler sounding taps,
a solitary woodpecker drums on the big live oak,
dislodging droves of opportunistic insects,
larvae waiting to rise like Easter Sunday.
Sprinkle faith in the places we need it most,
fill up these old Cheerwine bottles and
send them soaring like geese over fallow tobacco fields,
clappers eager to chime.
Saleem Hue Penny is a Monck's Corner, South Carolina rooted, Pisgah Forest, North Carolina raised, Chicago, Illinois based "rural hip hop blues" artist. He explores our evolving modernist relationship with the natural world by fusing electronic music, watercolor painting, improvisational performance, and poetry. In particular he is interested in themes of space/shelter, solitude/community, and the juxtaposition of a rural past with an urban present.