We grow up in the cradle of surrounding culture,
take it in like oxygen, have trouble distinguishing
folkways from those foods that sate the soul.
Then we go away. Save up for a car, buy it,
drive to Ohio or wherever jobs wait
for workers. Jobs with benefits. We go
out of Appalachia, become players in another
region, learn the local norms and rules. Won’t stop
returning to the counties we come from.
See a string of truck lights rolling south on I-75,
bound to home on holidays, weekends?
Back from Detroit auto plants, from Chicago mills,
bopping in briefly from nearby Cincinnati.
We take the collective story with us
of uncommon perseverance, harder lives
borne with good grace in this periphery
that’s long supplied the core materials.
We hold affinity for hilly places, have faith
that some objects of nostalgia can and should
be saved. We’re gone elsewhere for years,
and it’s fine if we come to like it. Some may die
in the adopted place. Appalachian transplants
go out in Pittsburgh, we leave earth via Columbus.
Some of us. Whether loved ones hold a service in the hills
or up in Indy, we move on without relinquishing
a sense of always belonging. A bond to the hearth,
warmth of the memory of home fires. We go, we return.
Todd Mercer writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. Recent work appears in The Lake, Leaves of Ink, Mojave River Review and Praxis Magazine.