FROM WATER, ROAD AND ROCK
My accent cannot tell you how this landscape accommodates the shape of my thoughts. They trickle down the creek bed, tumble over a scarp and break apart into a spray of sun-struck prisms. Ideas of every shade. Dreams of living where leaves cycle from green to fire to green again braid with splintered plans, forming a broad river that feeds floodplains, pasture. This is where I am from.
There is no other way to tell it. No label for the map. Some seasons, a salt intrusion. Brackish water is birthplace, nursery that stocks the seas and skies. This brown feather is pliable, downy. This translucent shell protected, then constrained. Sediment sifts past reed-stems. Makes hidey homes in silt clouds. Snails speckle the marsh grass orange as they cling and feed on the breath of tide. My pulse and my prayer. The homeland I cannot claim. My vowels rise, curl, and flatten on a shore that’s ever elsewhere. My first word was water.
Or I am from the road. My parents stayed on, awaiting my birth, after Dad finished his term at Princeton. Two weeks to catch my breath and they bundled me into the Volkswagen with my 18-month-old sister, southbound to Dad’s next duty station. All I know about Jacksonville, Florida comes from a photo of me standing in a wading pool. My one-piece bathing suit decorated with a sash: Future Miss America. Dream or joke, I don’t look like I care. There is water.
Once, on a plane from Slovenia, I read an essay about home, about writing from land known for generations. I laid my head on the tray table and sobbed westward, miles above family places. Urban. Forested. Farmed. Cried my rootless feet right up through my chest. Soppy nubs of toes scraped their way out my throat because whatever the hell they were planted did not comprehend ground.
Six homes by age six, counting the Airstream trailer. Six elementary schools. Six years in Oregon—the longest anywhere—became sixteen years in one house. Fled Oregon in existential desperation—a story for another time. Carolina has been good to me, welcoming my white, heterosexual self, tolerating my left-handedness. The land here holds me. Six years in this house and my partner and I scheme to move away to Oregon. A tribe there holds me.
I straddle a rift zone deep as the Atlantic trench. My being has places, not place. I am Gemini. Twinned. Restless. Longing flavors my marrow, yet I’m jealous of those who can answer Where are you from?
Blue Ridge metamorphic rock. Cascades basalt. Quartz sand of Gulf beaches. No need to go looking for the chicken farm in Jersey where a Navy pilot and nurse awaited the birth of their second child. I was formed there. I carry it with me.
Kelly Lenox is the author of The Brightest Rock, which received honorable mention for the 2018 Brockman-Campbell Book Award. She is the founder of the Erase-Transform Poetry Project. New poems appear in Timberline Review, EcoTheo Review, The Light Ekphrastic, Cider Press Review, and elsewhere. Her poems, prose, and translations have appeared in the U.K., Ireland, and Slovenia, with nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Kelly holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is editor in chief of the Environmental Factor at the National Institutes of Health. She lives in Portland, OR.