Spiritualized Life

Written by Jeremy Ray Jewell

Photo: Cherry Walker Jewell

They were naming places in Florida after my family until they started naming my family after places in Florida. My mother was born in 1954 in a hospital on the St. John’s River at the end of Cherry Street. She was named Cherry. She was an extra in a movie once, but I can’t remember the name of it. She is gone, but the street goes on… from the river to College Street, at least. And the old Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railway, CSX’s Sanford Subdivision… the tracks which make Riverside the island it is.

Then you can turn around and walk it again. College Street: My brother once lived two houses from the corner. I’d walked there from Willowbranch Park, following my mother’s namesake route. Next intersection is Post and Cherry, the ONA church where I had to jump out of a moving truck one night as a child when the stranger driving started rubbing my leg… Could have been the end of the Jeremy show! But it wasn’t. I dropped my wallet with my social security card inside, and later found an unpaid JEA account in Murray Hill had been opened in my name. Cherry Street was a dead mother all along. My name lived on, with mixed results.

Forbes Street is still full of vegetation, Selma is still treeless. Remington: I may have known a girl on this corner, and I may have knocked on her door ten years later just to see if she’d be there. That was before I understood how decades work. It takes a long time to crack that code, and once you do there’s no use in it. Downing: hot summer day. Olga: shade. Sydney: the dugout, sitting with someone I can’t remember but cherished. This walk is really taking too long, and my mother is nowhere to be seen.

The library: printing school papers. Park: now we’re going places. Herschel: ancient places. Oak: brick places, paved brick and streetcar places. Riverside Avenue Christian Church, the Allman Brothers house, and a photo I took in the grass when visiting from Boston with my sleeves rolled up. Remember? St. John’s: bulk cargo in front of a plantation house. Get the boat ready for me. Cherry Street Park: the broken dock – wait until she comes… or walk the whole damn thing again. Pace it, make a home out of it. A deathly deed. Or make a deed that is not death. Move on.

I was born in Riverside Hospital in 1986… that’s the Publix by Memorial Park. I was born by the deli, perhaps. Oscar Mayer, not Boar’s Head. Maybe in the putrid backside of the Papa John’s. I was born with Charles Adrian Pillars’ Spiritualized Life in my eyes. It’s the globe of swirling world war dead at the foot of the angel.

Pillars said: “In this surging mass of waters, I shaped human figures, all striving to rise above this flood, struggling for mere existence. Last, surmounting these swirling waters, with their human freight, I placed the winged figure of Youth, representative of spiritual life, the spirit of these boys which was the spirit of victory. Immortality attained not through death, but deeds; not a victory of brute force, but of spirit. This figure of Youth Sacrificed wears his crown of laurels won. He holds aloft an olive branch, the emblem of peace.”

Youth sacrificed, laurels won. Deeds rather than death. Emblem of peace. Even looking at that statue today I get the urge to dig them all a grave so deep it reaches to China. But that’s not how graves work. I also remember asking my mom about it. Was it grandaddy’s world war? No, another, earlier one. How many had there been? She couldn’t say. She didn’t even tell me I was born looking at the damn thing, and I’d have never figured it out yet.

Tactile Afterlife

Originally published in Heron Clan VI

I was at the age to guard the way the creek flowed like
it was some penmanship of larger men into the brown Carolina
and since waited on the country road and backwoods bridge

to become the compassionate elder viewing young catastrophes
and stepping panic stricken out into the power line clearing
as into the incisions of the black bear through hickory bark.

Then the dogwood blossoms fell before you knew it,
and with a vomit of flora the pessimism echo was muffled
as only I now recall how one or the other will first die.

Though in that green fury I am elated that it may be me.
The revolutionist’s preference is to explode like spring spores.
To collapse like the winter buck is the blackest rot.

Such interest in the produce of minds, you know, but
Carolina grows and grows again out of the cavities of
unevacuated chests – it may only be so.