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Swanquarter

Hitchhiked west on old US40 when the unfinished Gateway Arch had just enough steel up to cheek-on-steel sight up its curve

That summer evening sauntered around St. Louis’s riverfront streets to the distinct smell of vanilla

Vanilla pompona barged upriver from New Orleans to old warehouses aligned there

Out the Lee Highway from Washington taking my brother and me to her mission in the Blue Ridge my aunt pointed out a brown river-stone Episcopal church when I was eight

Round river-stone boulder-cobble rubble wall stonework common in Virginia

Searching the first independent emphatics from where these things come

The vanillas, the tomponymies, the brown and blond river-stones

The complex, telling origins of uniqueness that each of us disclose

Out from your setpoint, extending querencia

Carrying along, decades on, to take a few year-end days on the road to the Keys

Down the flat sunny winter-chill Delaware Valley

Hectic Christmas-shopping traffic patterns until well along US13

Then in from driving at winter-solstice early dark in Northampton County at the lowest verge of the Eastern Shore

Christmas Eve in Cape Charles for fish chowder and crab cakes

A Virginia-conversant couple at the next table like adulterers on a lark

Restaurant people and their on-the-job cozy open-fire bar-talk professional pleasantness

All so Virginia pleasant that it seemed no one wanted to finish up and leave

Outside the empty year-end cold of the wide vacant warf street at the sea gates of the Virginia capes

Embedded from the blue-white endpapers of a fifth-grade schoolbook, plume-hatted cavaliers flanking the ornate schematic map of the Virginia Commonwealth that marked them and the Spotswood Trail, Yorktown and Williamsburg

Four hundred and twenty Christmases ago up at Choptank in Maryland, having entered the Chesapeake, a fourteen-year-old named Joseph Steward in bond service came ashore off the Submission from Liverpool

The Submission barely made it

The log of that little barque for October 2, 1688:

The sea very Rough the wind high about 4 in the morning dyed Abraham the son of Randulph Blackshaw about 6 in the morning A great head sea broke over the ship & staved the boat & took the most part of it away, broke up the main hatches that were both nailed & corked & took them away that they were not seen where they went, broke the boat’s mast & hyst that were lashed in the midship, broke the forre shet & took several things of the decks & several things that were in the boat it cast betwixt decks. At 9 in the morning that was put overboard, about 4 in the afternoon A great sea fell on our Rudder & broke it about 1 yard or something more from the head, was again pieced as well as it cold that night—not being discovered until 10 at night & was made pretty firm the next day.

Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary was written the year young Joseph boarded the Submission

We are becoming an old country

This early-Christmas morning

Out toward Cape Henry far off in the winter sunup haze cargo ships at anchor in the roads

Norfolk and San Diego are the Navy’s entrepôts

The ragged opportunism and showy patriotism of military towns structured on the professionalism of intelligent engineers with cost-plus procurement for extremely expensive hardware

Outside the bases, old muscle cars, the families, pawnshops, clubs and bars

A WaWa stop in Norfolk, the only place open early Christmas morning

Congenial repartee with a woman working there who may have been South Asian, may have been Latin American, could have even been Middle Eastern

But whose perfect Tidewater English never let on which

And she was too charmingly self-assured to ask

Then out on the Outer Banks

The Oregon Inlet causeway-bridge lifts off the tide-bar scudding surf, obviating the old spindrift and surf-roar road experience here of blowing sand sizzling on the windshield to an abstract

Outerbanks, Innerbanks

Albamarle and Pamlico Sounds

The Cedar Island Ferry from Okracoke

Swanquarter off just to the west

Sometime should take the Swanquarter way south through coastal Carolina if for no other reason than its name

Tidewater Carolina

Could probably live in Swanquarter for the seafood alone

Hot summers, mosquitoes on breezeless dawns and evenings

Now at winter’s duck hunter pre-dawn Cedar Island motel breakfast, Carolina-polite they ask me, thinking I have a shotgun in the car, what kind of ducks I’m after

Mirror water ice-fringed winter dawn from the inlet causeways

One October early morning in Atlantic down from Cedar Island, NC, on the way to the Northeast from Josephine Lookout in the Coast Range after fire season closed, a shrimp boat skipper short a hand and casting off shouted to jump on and I nearly did

Into Swansboro inside Bogue Inlet for a break and a twelve-dollar haircut in the shop just opening up

A warm winter sun

The amiable barber jawing on

Deep in the friendly South

We talk the good winter weather, the economy, about the Marines

He complains profanely about small-business taxation

Smooth-tongued rebel rancor

An updated contrarian line that the cause of the South’s cause is the right cause for us all implying that the cause is our belief in it

That our belief in the cause of our belief will always be our belief in it

The sanctity of business, States Rights, banks and bankers, Washington, immigration, the NRA, Jesus is Lord, NASCAR, online surveillance, Chinese everything

Homeland Security closed the cutoff through Camp Lejeune that used to save going the long way through Jacksonville before facing congested and trashy Wilmington

Cape Fear and all that

The past-present of pleasant, eighteenth-century Georgetown, SC

Indigo and rice, like Charleston down the line

Pawleys Island northerners know about Georgetown

Once it was slavery, now it’s golf

Golf with nothing else to do, empty golf

Play the ball in the back of your stance and set the heel of the club so it’s off the ground and the shaft is vertical, then stand closer to the ball and when you swing

Zen practice that you’re headed for when you go home from the office for the last time with not a thing ahead but golf and memories

Here, now, driving USl7 and peel off on US21 for river-rich Beaufort

Cross Charleston’s cable-stayed Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant agape, it feels and looks somewhere ahead

Then Savannah, serene, familiar Savannah

I-95 congestion through south Georgia, recurring traffic clog that touches in like cloud shadows Maine-to-Miami

It was already here in Jacques Tati’s Trafic half a century ago with Monsieur Hulot on the autoroute to Amsterdam

Creep and crawl during which it’s gawk and speculate and hope to come up parallel to the tantalizing faces, shoulder, arms and glances again if your lane catches up with theirs again all the way to northern Florida

I-95 jammed well past the Midway exit near Hinesville

Here for three months before shipping out to Paju-ri and the DMZ back before the interstates when Fort Stewart was a tank battalion recon camp

Squad-tent winter under the quiet pines, driving a jeep in the sand for a colonel who tapped his swagger stick on the pipe-steel back of the passenger seat, the Army at it’s small-post simplest with a red-haired PX clerk whose low-country Georgian still warms

How many nights in so many places with vanilla olfactory phonemes in the air

And many of the days below piles of high cumuli

Each setpoint extended

Limited only by attitude and how long the parent body lasts

 

 

D. E. Steward has only taught swimming, never studied writing, and didn’t even major in English. Since college he has never had a pedestrian job, and with nearly a thousand credits and Chroma Volumes One through Five (Archae Editions, Brooklyn, 2017) has never published anything he is not proud of.

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