by David-Matthew Barnes

For James Rufus Agee

You go to Knoxville to search for the stolen
childhood of Agee, hoping it will repair
your own. His, before Saint Andrews, before Exeter.
Yours, before the drugs, demons, curses
of young writers who allow handsome muses to slip
through broken fingers – the shocking
cold, fluid knives of the Tennessee River. He had
Father Flye. You had strangers stumbling,
banging around the sharp, wooden edges
of your insolence. You and he have in common:
angry mother, absent father. A death in the family.
You can never go home again.
He, a Southerner in a Yankee school.
You, a misfit in your own shadow of doubt.
For him it was Harvard, I.A. Richards. For you –
Chicago waited like a chaise lounge. You longed
for purpose, the definition of what poured
from your soul, to the virgin page. He accepted
Fortune but gleamed for the glamour
he envisioned. The Depression was cruel to the
creative. Much like reality tortures the mind
of those who dare to dream in fiction. You are
daunted by it, often. He was drawn to migrant
farm workers. You succumbed to seduction, face-
less immigrants. He finally got his African Queen,
his Olivia, Alma, and Mia. You danced with
Hollywood but opted for a steady partner,
excused yourself to the Southern suburbs,
where shame can’t hide in the shade, darlin’.
His heart heavy, he took a fatal taxi ride
in New York. In the month of May. You say to this
city from which he came, let us now praise famous
men. Soon, some of the others will be famous, too.
[Check out David’s back porch wisdom]