Winston Salem, N.C.

Tennessee, End of Summer

By Susan Harlan

The sky shifts against dark rumblings. This is the last storm of summer, and the cicadas seem to chant its coming.

In the motel’s pool is the last beach ball of summer, floating in the fading light. 

The smoke of the campfire that the owner has just made is the smoke from the last campfire of summer, giving the mountains their name.

On the telephone wire is a bird whose colors I can’t see. He is the last bird of summer, a shadow.

A pair of shoes, rubbery and black, is kicked off and left outside of the room next door. These are the last shoes of summer.

The trees along the mountaintop above are like paper cuts-outs, folded again and again and then cut and stretched out like dolls. These are the last trees of summer.

The birdhouse by the pool, its wooden post tilted to the left, is the last birdhouse of summer.

The rocks that the creek runs over are flat and smooth, like rocks in a cave, worn down. And the trout in the water are the last trout of summer, and one will be on my plate for dinner.

The clouds that fall low across the mountain and settle in the branches are the last clouds of summer, and I hear people call them marshmallow clouds.

The tan gravel in the parking lot is the last gravel of summer.

Lightning, like a diffuse star, is the last lightning of summer.

The towels that hang on the motel’s railings are the last towels of summer. One has red, blue, and orange triangles on a black background; the other has purple, yellow, and red stripes on a white background.

A restaurant sign glows neon red: GOOD HOME COOKING. It is the last restaurant sign of summer.

The voices in the room down the way are the last voices of summer.

And if there were a bear here, he would be the last bear of summer, but there is not. There is no bear. There is only a small white dog on the lawn, squatting to pee, like a garden statue.


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