On Trammel Creek

On Trammel Creek
by Jim Wayne Miller

No respecter of state lines,
Trammel Creek rose from bold double springs
over in Tennessee
and flowed cold and deep
into a Kentucky county—never
having got word the county
had been voting dry
for fifty years.

Up Trammel Creek
on a Sunday in September,
a day that started bright and blue
with the slightest dry rattle
in sycamore leaves whenever wind stirred,
then darkened to a still
and thoughtful afternoon,

up Trammel Creek
wearing a pair of cast-off
rubber-soled shoes,
denim pants wet to mid-thigh,
and a roomy denim jacket,
the Brier came trailing
two trout on a stringer.

Where a white frame church
stood under sycamores
well back from the creek known
to get high as a sawmill hand
on mean liquor, the Brier
came out of the water
and rested on the church house steps.
He smoked and passed the time of day
with a feller who pulled his pickup
off the gravel road there.

He pulled from his denim jacket
a flat pint of the local liquor
and gave the feller a drink.
They talked of land and cattle
until the feller drove on
over the ridge to see
about some burley he had curing.

The Brier waded on upstream
took another trout and thought
how understandings between countrymen
could be stronger than the laws
of any state; how easily the laws
were broken, dry twigs underfoot.

And where two customs seemed
about evenly matched, they stayed
out of each other’s way,
just as the church house stood
back from the creek, or the way the creek
swung away from the church house.

He understood
that customs were stronger than laws
and so he always observed
certain rules:
he never carried a pint
in his hip pocket
when wading a fast rocky creek
(carried it in his jacket).
He never drank whiskey
on the church house steps
when a service was in progress.
Never offered a drink
to a stranger in a dry county
unless the stranger looked
like he wanted one.

     The Briar Poems
     Gnomon Press, January 1997

On Trammel Creek