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Whispers of My Mortality

Three Poems by Kayli Hinkley


The Hanging Tree


“I was just a boy when I watched them


hang a man from that tree,”


Papaw said from the driver’s side of his rusted pickup.


I held my breath and


grasped at my youth,


which always seemed to fade a little


when he showed me his past.


He stared ahead, knuckles white


eyes like pools, swimming


and brimming


with old memories,


and things seen


much too young.


The grass was worn to the soil


all around us–a threadbare spoil of remembrance–


where tires had come, and stopped,


and gone, much too frequent


for mother nature to hide


the marks in the earth that matched the treads


on Papaw’s beat up Ford.


He was a regular at the CO-OP and Hardees on weekdays,


the ballpark in the spring, and the duck blinds in the fall,


but his Sundays weren’t spent in a church pew,


like all the other good country folk.


Papaw spent his Sundays in silence,


searching for his lost innocence


at the base of an old sycamore.




The Mighty Age of Six


I often wish I could go


back


Back to an old home I once inhabited.


It sits in the little town of Cornelia, Georgia–


a two-bedroom home with a sloping


driveway


that always froze over in the winter.


Cornelia, Georgia.

It was the place where I discovered magic


and awe


at the mighty age


of six.


Cornelia, Georgia takes me back


to a time


when I still had religion,


and my grandfather wasn’t blind,


when I trusted myself,


and I swore I’d never let a drop


of alcohol


pass my lips.


Sometimes, the want for that place


for before,


is so great


I sit on Google maps for hours


just to stare at the indention


that little house in Cornelia, Georgia makes


in the earth. Even if I cannot touch it,


it helps me to know


that this piece of myself


still


exists.


I can cling to it—


Its satellite image,


even when everything else


has changed.


But I can never go back there,


because I am two thousand


seven hundred


and forty-one


miles


away,


teetering off the edge


of the Oregon coast.


It’s the coldest day of the year,


with a mist


so dense


I cannot see my own fingers


as they wriggle in front of my face.


Here, I’ve forgotten how to pray,


and I can’t seem to shake the feeling

that there’s nothing waiting for me


on the other side of a beating


heart and a conscious brain—


No “job well done,


my good and faithful


Servant.”


No warm embrace


from that glowing deity


in the sky.


So with nothing


left to do,


with no one to save me,


I wade


into stormy waters,


letting it toss me


from here


to there,


with no life vest,


no safety, no hope of return


to Cornelia, Georgia


or to the mighty age


of six.




The Ache of Humanity


No matter how old,


no matter how far removed we may get


from our primordial forms,


humans will always ache


for magic and Santa Claus,


for shooting star wishes made in the width of a breath,


and for a heaven—one that’s so in reach,


so tangible,


we swear we skim its threshold


every time we call to the sky.


We write books, and sing songs,


build temples, and churches, and altars


to fill the empty space


some creator made


in each of us


And so


the ache of humanity


becomes the string

that ties us all


together.


It’s the thing


that makes us


one.


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