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Heading South, a poem by Jeffrey Owen Pearson

Heading South
by Jeffrey Owen Pearson

As the plane skirts the coast heading south
to Ft. Lauderdale, I fool myself into seeing a marlin
leap from the ocean and, for a moment,
look me in the eye as if something holy.
Because all things are holy.
From this height I see the blurring of sea and land.

Of a place where people struggle for footholds.
I know who loses this game.
Because we all always lose in the end.

When my feet hit the tarmac I already feel
foreign. Like a soldier who retreats from death
or will be swallowed.

I have come to claim the dead. Whose atoms
will soon mingle into the fire of a last sunset.
How odd the familiarity of gray streets

moaning in the rising mist after a rain shower.
The tangle of unusual trees and boulevard names.
The unfriendly neighborhood facades

with no one I know. Easy in, easy out,
they say. Except the way grief sticks everywhere.
Like gum stuck on the pavement, cooking

in the sun. Sweet but spit out for the only reason
I know. I’ve become too accustomed to its taste.

From Jeffrey Owen Pearson: “I began writing a tribute to Jay Zimmerman, who grew up in Florida, but the poem kept turning to my son, who died there. 'Heading South' is heavy with both.”