Dean Jones had a theory.
Dean Jones had acne on his shoulders
and was tall, so we believed him
when he said that there were monsters
in the river and more—
ghosts of hobos in the old plantation house
off State Route 38, the Old Savannah Highway.
Being a storybook boy, I believed
they were the same, dead slaves
who’d returned to draw catfish out of slumber
then frolic where their masters had.
So it rained for a week, the remnants
of the Sea Islands hurricane,
and Dean Jones said when the sun comes back
we’ll go down to the Bottoms
in boots and see. They put me in charge
of the sabers and sandwiches, his brother Len
the map, and Sadie Tomlinson the spells
because she never smiled and her mother
was a witch. Expecting busted shackles
and bits of Sherman’s clothes, perhaps a whip
or a gourd that rattled, I went in first.
What amazed me were the ladybugs,
shields of them everywhere like poppies
in the spring, black and red, and when
I told them it was beautiful, when I told them
it was like a dream, they wouldn’t believe me.
Perhaps the hurricane made them;
perhaps some unnamed mother
brought them forth to remind us
there was some joy we’d missed, some power
that even the United States of America
failed to conjure with their real bayonets
and dark blue jackets. Another century
was coming, and among our ham salad sandwiches
that afternoon we believed—even Dean Jones
believed—that it would be better than the last.

Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, San Francisco, 2019). His poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner and Posit. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.