Columbia Pike Blues
by Katherine E. Young
Arlington County Poet Laureate, 2016 – 2018
(At the Columbia Pike Blues Festival, June 17, 2017)
What is it that we want from our roads?
To cart tobacco to port, raw grain
to mill, cattle to abattoir.
To take us out in the morning,
crossing footpaths made by others,
past clay forts turned to brick works
where a man and woman born enslaved
are buying supplies for the first
brick townhouse. To take us to the river,
the ferry, the bridge, the school, the store,
diner, theater, botanica, iglesia,
taqueria. To lead us back home.
You have to sit a spell in a place
to capture its full flavor. To watch
from your front porch as the road’s straightened
and smoothed, see the couple from Barcroft
throttle the bus gamely uphill.
Watch abandoned pastures sprout
radio towers to talk with Paris,
thrust up garden apartment blocks
where bachelors starch clean uniforms
for tomorrow’s shift at the Pentagon.
Embrace a church. Rebuild a school.
Bury a loved one in its soil.
You have to listen to a place
a long time to hear its blues:
forest to farm, hills sown with stones,
Freedman’s Village, Queen City paved
to park cars. Streetcars falter,
no longer leave the lot. Metro
junctions gape empty, the line unbuilt.
Even the porches are long gone, now.
And always: the quiet padding of feet
from longhouses by the river
as the ghosts of indigenous settlers
carve out new trails up ahead.