Poetry: The Exit Ramps for Scenic Hwy/Scotlandville and 110-W/Baton Rouge by Jesse DeLong
Jesse DeLong writes of a time seemingly eras ago—when black children saw one of their own in the Oval Office, when pigments and not political terrorism were the musings of philosophy professors. The vulnerability of “The Exit Ramps” returns us to an earlier part of the story, for better, or for worse.
The Exit Ramps for Scenic Hwy/Scotlandville and 110-W/Baton Rouge
The car rumbles on, through smooth roads
to turns with no streets signs
and pot holes. The wipers squeal
in the afterrain, fog slowly shaping on glass—
So much of the morning
whitewashes your dreams. A voice on the radio
says the president is a Muslim, from Kenya,
a Communist—all three. Labels for Not one of us.
A photo in the Oval Office captures
the president bending as a black child pats his head.
The child wondered if the president’s hair felt like his own.
A doberman perks its ears, sniffing grass the city has planted
to pretty up the highway. A school bus plows through
the exhaust. Familiar, familiar. All the elements
are here. So, dear reader, build on, if you would, where we came from
in this story—but don’t keep it
too heavy, we need to move on. A finch, grey as pavement,
burrows into a fast food bag. The hallways are empty.
A philosophy professor smiles: teeth the color of a bruised banana.
His voice, like the radio’s, is an echo. He keeps
saying pigment. Things would be different
if I were the right pigment. I drive home on the other side
of the divide. The doberman is in the middle
of the highway, dead. Passing tires enliven its coat.
The philosopher is white, not black like the mind
must imagine. The mind which has learned to label.
I merge onto an exit ramp. It guides me to another
turn off, which returns me to where I started. Prisoners
are picking up trash on the boundaries
of the highway. Forty percent of them will return.
Terns circle above orange traffic jackets. One of the men stops,
catches his breath. Somebody, please, get me out of this story.
Jesse DeLong's work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, American Letters and Commentary, Indiana Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Typo, as well as the anthologies Best New Poets 2011 and Feast: Poetry and Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner. His chapbooks, Tearings, and Other Poems and Earthwards, were released by Curly Head Press.