Fall will spill buckets
of sleet and sweaters
and children wearing mittens.
Smoke rises from cider mill chimneys
in the city I was born.
The Tittabawassee River oozes
through Shiawassee County,
widens and slows
once it reaches Saginaw.
This city does not belong to us—
you can tell by the names—
shiawassee, tittabawassee, saginaw.

Mother, named after your father,
I am like the river that runs
through your county.
I am proud to belong here.
Mother, trust me,
I sat inside your jail-bar ribcage
singing blues songs, stewed inside you
like an unanswered question,
left with little room in your womb.

You’re always on the verge of changing,
like seasons in September—
what do you call those long days of Michigan?
The scorching heat where leaves sizzle in wind,
but any day, there will be freezing rain.
You call it life.

Although the Fall is near,
you hustle dance through dead leaves.
I saw you do Latin turns, Chicago basics,
and cha-cha turns. You are always on the verge
of a kick-ball-change,
but I do not understand what is changing.
Your wrinkle-less face, your shy, downcast eyes—
you seem pressed and preserved
like rose petals in a scrapbook.

Derold Sligh is a member of the English faculty at Daegu
University in Daegu, South Korea. He received a BA and MA from
Central Michigan University and an MFA from San Diego State
University. His work has appeared in journals such as American
Poetry Journal, Mythium, Chamber Four, Status Hat, Konundrum
Engine, Saw Palm, Central Review, and Web del Sol. He taught
creative writing workshops for San Diego State University, Gear Up
and King/Chavez/Parks and was a guest poet at the Theodore
Roethke Memorial where he ran a workshop for African American
fathers and sons.
by Derold Sligh