Amberlee Clark

The Small Town Mind
By Amberlee Clark


Look out
At the ambling, sun-blistered Texas hills
That roll on for miles.
Never look inside this small town.
Inside you’ll see the same things as ever-
The six-lane bowling alley that only ever uses two,
The three-year-old Chinese place that everyone still calls new,
And of course,
The clapboard churches topped with spears like steeples.

Look out
And pretend you’re walking along the desolate highway
Away from this even more desolate township
Where Uncle Andy bust his own head in
By slamming it against his tiled bathroom wall,
And his son- always fresh from a jail cell-
Said a prayer to Angel Dust
Before he bothered scrubbing the bloodstains.
Where even the dough-faced girl learned from her friends
How to give birth too young
And now her children must pay penance
Since she’s only half a mother.

Look out.
Inside they’re breeding crazy
Because you can only visit Laura’s Coffee Shop/DVD Rental
/Lemonade Stand/ Secondhand Furniture Store
So many times.
Or glance over your shoulder to find the pastor’s wife’s eyes.
Or look up at the downtown ghost hotel until you find,
That the ghosts are haunting everything.

These people have been stagnant for decades,
Caught up in a life cycle of toads.
The only change is growing less innocent.
No amount of drugs or Jesus can repair it.
And they drink the water from this town’s mineral wells
Laced with lithium,
(As if it could pacify their imbalance)
And then they suffocate themselves in their cigarette smoke
Because they have to gasp just to know they’re alive.


Look out.
Inside you’ll find the rough-knuckled man
Too hard to wait and beat his girl
When her children aren’t looking,
And the man who managed to find an escape
Only to come crawling back in
Because once a small town gets into your mind,
It’s always scuttling under your skin.

Look out.
Inside all the righteous folk shove their heads into their Bibles
And let their lips be the judgment stamp
Rather than look into the face of any inbred suffering. After all,
Did God ever dirty his hands?

No Dreamers can ever hope to live in a one-McDonald’s town
Where all the things worth doing are thirty miles down the highway.
Butterfly ambitions suffocate inside this fishbowl city,
And the flowering bud of a dream can’t find room to take root.

So look out,
Away from Preacher Bryan and his hellfire tongue,
Reminding God’s sheep to be small-minded.
Away from the neighbor’s children, neglected and abused,
Who had to learn how to carry grown-up hearts inside their little chests.
Away from all the people here who just never got their chance.

Inside hopes only settle like dust on the cracked sidewalk,
And people seed their insanity in their own backyards
While the small world they know bleeds into their soul
And pain begins to define living.

Look out.
Let your prayers pulse against the city limits.
Look out.
See an endless greater expanse beyond.
Look out
At the ambling sun-blistered Texas hills.
Look out!
Or the small-town mind might get you.

Jason Carney