An Unwed Mother Says Farewell
To A Small Town in Alabama
Yesterday I was walking past Clark’s Drugstore
when an old lady I didn’t even know came rushing out. 
She had hair like puffs of cotton and eyes as shiny
as a child’s. Dear, you know Jesus loves you,
she said as she took my arm and walked beside me
to the corner, all you have to do is believe.
Before I could say a word she had crossed the street 
against the light. All the traffic just stopped,
no one yelled out the window or blew the horn.
How I wish I had asked her to visit the people
I know who never have dreams, the ones who wake in the morning
with the insides of their heads as blank as the ceilings
above them, the ones who clean out their attics and can’t 
find a single thing they want to keep. They think
the rocks Neil Armstrong brought back from the moon 
were hauled in on a truck from Nevada, and they think
I’ll come to no good. But I’ve been to Atlanta before, 
I’ve seen the dogwoods that bloom right in the middle 
of the city; I’ve seen them and thought of suddenly 
hearing music in an empty house. I already know
what it’s like to live for weeks on popcorn and Kool-Aid 
and then find a twenty-dollar bill on the floor
of the laundromat. I know all about faith:

I’ve been ten years old, standing in the hayloft on Angie’s farm,
fifteen feet up, looking down. I see the bales of hay in rows
on the floor, and I see the other girls sprawled there,
giggling, picking hay out of their socks and their hair, saying 
backwards, backwards this time. I turn around, look at a glint
of sun through a crack in the wall, at shadows of birds’ nests
high up in the corners. I think about how the whispering
and the shuffling below could mean they’re moving
every bale of hay from the center of the concrete floor,
or balancing a pitchfork, prongs up, in the exact spot where
I’ll land. I lift my chin, raise my arms like wings
and drop backwards into that one sick weightless instant,
into fourteen warm arms that break my fall.
When my daughter is old enough to ask where she came from, 
I’m going to tell her the truth. I’m going to tell her
about the day I was walking down Elm Street and saw her 
tumbling out of the air, and even though dozens
of other people up and down the street saw her too, I was the only one who ran into the middle of the street and held out my arms.