– Tuscaloosa, Alabama
At the Archibald & Woodrow’s,
the smoker yawns its pork parts
over a low flame – the dank air
as heavy as a lead refrigerator.
Thin, vinegar-sauce tang calls us
to our seats like somnambulists.
Our fever-dreams are burnt ends,
collard greens, sliced white bread.
The city where we met is ruined.
Funnel clouds emptied the fields
of memory. But the waitress still
flirts for tips, dotes on an oddity:
how I lather coleslaw on my BBQ.
Her pink-black lacquered nails tap
the table’s woodtop. She is brown.
She is gorgeous like a Greek battle.
She does not acknowledge sorrow,
our grief. I think that we love her.
And the ribs are still tender, the tea
so sugar-sweet no spoon can stir it.
ABOUT THE POEM:
The epigraph of this poem establishes the location. I lived in Tuscaloosa from 2007-2010. And even though I grew up in the South and was familiar with the region’s traditions, eccentricities, oddities, etc., Tuscaloosa surprised and charmed me nonetheless. It is a place with both a very proud and very terrible history — the mecca of college football (ROLL TIDE!) and the place where Governor Wallace attempted to block Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling at the university. To me, Tuscaloosa seemed like a microcosm of the best and worst of the South. I made many friends there.
I was living in Columbus, Ohio on April 27, 2011 when an enormous tornado rampaged through Tuscaloosa and so many other surrounding communities. I’d visited Tuscaloosa only a few weeks earlier and, in the subsequent days, was horrified (like everyone else) to see the pictures of destruction. As it turns out, the next time that I would visit Tuscaloosa was purely accidental and, coincidentally, on April 28, 2012 — nearly a year to the day of the tornado. Seeing the aftermath firsthand, even a year later, was troubling: the rubble of homes and businesses, the splintered and missing trees, a still-littered lake. The absence of these things meant you could see much further into the distance now than you could before, nearly across the entire town, from the interstate exit. It was as if the horizon line had been stretched out before you. Other parts of Tuscaloosa looked exactly the same as when I’d left, like nothing had happened.
The first thing I did when I returned to Tuscaloosa was eat at my favorite barbecue joint, Archibald & Woodrow’s, which is little more than a bedroom-sized room covered in wood-paneling and sports memorabilia. It was the dead-time between lunch and dinner; I ordered a pulled-pork sandwich and sides for about $6.00. There were maybe two other customers, and the waitress was very kind. It seemed strange to be in a place that felt familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously. All of that makes it into the poem, I think. If the poem has a theme, maybe it’s that you can’t go home again. Or maybe you can. I’d like to think that a sub-theme is that “Tuscaloosa Runs This.” The epigraph is also a sort of dedication.
ABOUT THE POET:
Michael Marberry is Poetry Editor of The Journal. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Third Coast, Guernica, Linebreak, Passages North, Harpur Palate, and elsewhere.