I’m driving to a fire, momma.
I hear there’s a fire on the mountain, momma.
That’s where I’m headed. Bare foot, pressing the gas
to the floor. I’ve been headed up that way for a while.
Toward the light. The glow. Since I heard
you and daddy whispering how there ain’t nothing
out past as far as I can see.
Funny thing, though.
You can see a little better with every little step.
Every play mile. And I’m burning a road out for my own
way up the hill, to the very top, with my eyes and ears.
Have been since you set the signal fires alight
In my heart. In my hands. Mostly in feet.
Ever remember doing that? Right when I was born?
I know I was born in this house. I still see it.
I catch versions of lives mirrored back in the flames
of a bonfire some men joked and drank around
while I struggled free from your belly, momma.
I smelled smoke.
I have ever since. We all have.
That same ground is dark with autumns of brush burnings.
With newspapers and bills. Leaves and tobacco spit.
Old toys. The black mud below is heavy spellbound
and I have a pocket full of it to take with me
over the ridge. The mud’s full of light and heat.
I hear there’s fire all over the mountain, father. Up
where all the answers are etched in boulders.
Who spends all that time up there carving wisdom
into such stubborn earth?
Some kind of angels?
Do they write with lighting? Is that how the fires started?
And will they wait for me to make it up there?
I want to meet them. I always have. But I’m moving slowly.
I ain’t going there to put any fire out, sister.
I’m taking my own. What I’ve hidden under our bed
these years. What’s been long out of control in this heart, unsung.
Waterless. What’s warmed our little room on cold nights.
When I add my own to lightning you’ll know I made it.
You’ll know I’m up and can see over
where we’re never supposed to have gone.
Look hard and you’ll see me waving back only to you.
You’ll hear it happen, too. I promise.
There’s fire in the sky, little dead brother in the ground.
But you know that. You’ve played in air since leaving us.
I’ve felt you swing by giggling.
Whispering, You’re it.
I’m taking you with me, if you’ll go.
Pack your airy things, light and sparkly like I glance you
sometimes in the branches, and sit with me.
We have lighting to create, flame to transport,
and fire to seek:
the other side of a dark ridge to discover.
Larry D. Thacker. Johnson City, Tennessee.
Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.