Crossing the Altamaha
Christopher Martin

                     The spectre sank, and lay upon the air,
                     And brooded, level, close upon the earth…
                                                               —Sidney Lanier

The road leads to floodplain where river sifts cordgrass,
dusk sky brooding over highway and delta like a green heron,
yellow flecks framing indigo feathers where the last sunlight shivers.
Seared on the brown glow bounding Glynn’s marshes,
smoke hovers, smoke Lanier called “hell-colored”
in his hymns, its extent unimagined by him.

The heron’s shadow enters the expanse at the I-95 bridge,
as do we, a flow of traffic toward the coast. On the shoulder,
cruiser signals break, spark in refuse, shattered glass,
where a black man sits handcuffed,
waits while two white cops search his car,
a drug dog at their heels.

I do not know this man’s charge;
pot smoke poured from windows, perhaps,
or maybe it was he matched a description:
black man behind a wheel.

I do not know, but only that justice has crept here,
that it still crawls, slow as backwater, overrun by this bridge,
crossed by this freight, forsaken as the green heron, midflight
in the rearview. Blue lights flash in dark wings, beam
from the bent world, and the bird disappears.

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