The Spraypaint Smile on the Bridge Is Fake — Will Gibson

(a poem for Wynne, Arkansas after C.L. Bledsoe)

There are bank parking lots full of
kids with Papaw’s truck that is
covered in Confederate flags.
They drive up to Sonic and park
and drive back to the bank
to park again. They yell about
black people like dogs barking
after a pedestrian that has
never even come close to it’s yard.
They yip, and growl, and curl lips,
all full of tobacco spit and Daddy’s
drunken rants and none of them
have ever seen an ocean. Never
thought to go see one. They don’t
dream that big. There are bushels
of skeletons that block the street,
that block everyone from getting
out. There is a 90 year old matress
in Grandaddy’s trailer that 3 family
members have died on. People have
fallen in love and hearts have been
broken all around that matress. There
are secrets behind the brick homes up
on the ridge and love in the trailer parks.
Across the street from the trailer park is
a middle school. Behind that middle school
is a spot under a tree where too many
locals have lost their virginity. There is still
blood on the ground in that spot. There are
houses with dirt floors and toothless women
at the kitchen table with bald, dying old men
out in the yard that yell in to the women at the
table. They say, “I Love ya, ya fat old bitch,”
and they mean every single word. They will not
understand what you mean, will look at you
like a confused dog when you tell them it is
disrespectful to call her that. There are problems
that rise from the greenish smoke, angry little people
who cook magic powders and choke the life out
of the bored locals. Everyone gags on
something. There are limits here, not only
on the signs. The speed leaks off the
3 bloated new downtown buildings
and drive thru liquor stores.
Booze and the perception of movement
are the only options, but Little Rock
is scary and Forrest City is a big city
of 13,000 people if you could count
all the illegal farm workers. There are
drugs everywhere and nowhere and
all places in between. Evil hides in
quiet corners and in “only God can judge me”
smirks as it judges you from the front
church pew and tries to fight you in the
parking lot. There are issues unresolved
floating in the Walmart aisles where
shoppers mock each other after they
pass, always under their breath. No one
wants confrontation in such a holy place.
There are train tracks that still divide
the town along color lines. The whites
call the black side of town “Colored Town”
like their great-grandfathers did, and
hate those of us who ignore the
borders with a smile. There are places
that surround this little rice and cotton
cluster called “sundown towns,” where
they warn black people to get out by
sundown, and they do. There are
sundowns towns that warn white people
to get out by sundown, and they do.
There are rules here.
There are questions that
linger on tongues, but never
find the courage to come out
into the humid air, and dry
answers that no one seems to have
or want to share. Everyone knows
where McDonald’s is, knows that
Hays and Wal-Mart switched spots,
that Burger King closed, and Sonic
crossed the street, but can’t give you
directions to the library because
“it closed last year, ain’t it?” The
willful ignorance soaks through
the street like a flood no one
cares about. They will drown someday.
No one wants to learn to swim.

Will Gibson was born from a good idea and a bottle of bourbon and raised in some of the poorest communities in northern Illinois and eastern Arkansas. He has had work appear with Midwestern Gothic, Radius, Yellow Chair Review, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, and Electric Cereal (among others), was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net 2015. He would like to talk to you for hours on end about lighthouses and random other things. He currently lives in California, but the locals call it Jefferson.