Returning to the Luxapalila
Paul Ruffin, (2010) Returning to the Luxapalila. Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal: July 2010, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 63-63.
from pastures and fields of cotton and corn
and forestland heavy with humus.
Kneeling by the water near a shale outcropping,
I shatter my face and settle my outspread hand,
palm up, until it fades from sight
like something drowned in history’s dark pages —
now you see it, now you don’t.
Watching the hand disappear, I see
the face of a girl eased down by the pastor,
her paleness and blond hair darkened,
held below that brown rush
until she broke the surface again,
arms flung wide in the flaring sun,
face shining like an angel’s,
white marble with thin blue veins
trailing from her temples to blend
with water whispering off her hair,
dress sheer and tight on her tiny breasts,
Thank you, Jesus, he cried to the water and the woods.
Here as a boy I curled at the end
of a cable swing, flung out, released,
hung there, wingless creature floating on air
until gravity snatched me and I dropped
breathless to the river, the flash of green bank,
then my feet entering the water, my body
going down through that wet tunnel,
the color of weak whiskey across my eyes,
a darker stronger bourbon, then nothing,
slipping into the earth itself, and deeper,
until my feet touched the bottom,
the spongy primordial end of the world.
A thrust and I rose through the tunnel,
eyes uplifted toward the brightness,
hands and arms battering like wings
to burst breathless to green and blue,
the steady round face of the sun,
my vision bleared by water,
the taste of Earth upon my tongue.
My feet uncertain against the muddy slope,
I clamber back to the level of brush and briar
on the bluff, watch the brown ribbon below
weaving around a grassy bar, and see —
is it a simple slant of light
breaking from behind me? —
the girl’s marble-white face rising free,
hair streaming, cupped by my hand,
her arms stretched out to the mounting sun.
Paul Ruffin, author of 2 novels, 3 collections of short stories, 4 books of essays, and 7 collections of poetry, is the 2009 Texas State Poet Laureate and Texas State University System Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at Sam Houston State University, where he edits The Texas Review and directs Texas Review Press. Printed with the author’s permission.