Think of it as a family: first one son leaves, takes
his losses to Atlanta. Then another and another

until what’s left of the town is a train track reflected
in the empty store fronts like a strand of gray hair kissing

a mirror. Sons gone, daughters settled in Memphis, all that’s left
is the father waking in the same house to the same fog pawing

through the dog flap, the same sermon echoing
through the living room on the first Sunday in Ordinary Time—

(some town turned to ash). I’ve driven through some with names prettier
than fact:
Bluff Point and Asheboro, Poplar and Mayesville,

and wondered where the living went. Once, I parked
outside a consignment shop to stare at seven mannequins

standing half-crooked, their thin arms bent at the hip, no ribs
to betray their hunger. Truth is, it’s never a quick dissolution,

never an exodus of fifty families sputtering
toward better factory jobs, but a fading slow as a single

boll weevil blown in from the east, slow as a radio station
cutting through fields of sorghum. I breathed once the silence

outside the Ruritan Club in Conway, its building spackled
like a dog growing mange, and prayed three times

to the benevolent gods of the bulldozer. Like a father forgetting
the color of his daughter’s eyes, I pressed my back

against the flaking wall and stared at the abandoned Texaco
across the street. No cars, no hands on the pumps, no mouths

spitting beside the oil stains, just me, weightless
in my jacket, thinking of all the people who wouldn’t be

crossing the road beneath the saltshaker moon, the dark sky
descending like a headstone, and nobody asking

who the hell I was, where the hell I was going.


Joshua Martin is a Ph.D. student in creative writing at Georgia State University. He has
published or has work forthcoming in Asheville Poetry Review, The Carolina Quarterly,
Crab Orchard Review, Salamander, The Raleigh Review, Nashville Review, The Cortland
Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, Louisiana Literature, and elsewhere. He was a
finalist in the 2019 Atticus Review Contest and won third place in the 2019 William
Matthews Poetry Contest. He was recently awarded a fellowship to the Martha's Vineyard
Institute of Creative Writing.
DYING TOWNS
byJoshua Martin
MAY 2019