Stoned Soul Picnic

John Marshall Highway, photo by Jose Padua
The stoned soul picnic was where
I first held your hand thirty years
before you were born as we watched
a red wine and golden apple colored
sunset that made us shiver slightly
like swimmers rising from warm water
into cool air. I was a sailor of ships,
a flyer of kites, a child of old city
streets on vacation during the summer
of broken windows. I wrote stories
that began with the word how and
ended with the word because,
because I didn’t know how to say it
any other way. And the years were
like dry ice, melting then turning
into mist, into pink fog over the winding
waters we followed as we brought
our covers, our fires and our black
iron pots with cracked edges all covered
with grease and fat. And the mist rose
higher and higher, then rained back
down on us with the fury of fists,
and food grew scarce, and we grew
tired and slow and our thoughts turned
to black and white like old TVs
and old fading photographs, and
I went to the woman with the loudly
beating heart, breathing heavily like her
and asked, Can you show me the way
to Bending Creek the next time it rains frogs
in the afternoon? We’ll be very hungry
by then and their deep fried legs will make
good eating on the red blanket
on the green grass with the music playing
like open-eyed love through a storm.
Why if we had their power to jump,
we could see hazy or even clear
over the mountains, and in the midst
of these strange, unforeseen events when
land starts to shake and skies tremble
and fall we’ll know what to do and how.
We’ll save ourselves, our tribe, our land
which follows us whichever way we go.
Why we might even save the world,
but don’t count on it, motherfucker.

-Jose Padua

A poem from three or four years ago, this is one of many that started coming to me on the drive back to Front Royal from Winchester on Route 522/340. There’s something about having the Blue Ridge Mountains to your left, and the Appalachians on your right—and getting a clear sense that this is indeed a valley we live in—that seems to start that river of words flowing into my head. Or something like that.

The photo of the John Marshall Highway, going into Front Royal and descending into the Shenandoah Valley, was taken earlier this year.


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