Poem for 2017 Columbia Pike Blues Festival

Columbia Pike Blues

by Katherine E. Young

Arlington County Poet Laureate, 2016 – 2018

(At the Columbia Pike Blues Festival, June 17, 2017)


What is it that we want from our roads?

To cart tobacco to port, raw grain

to mill, cattle to abattoir.

To take us out in the morning,

crossing footpaths made by others,

past clay forts turned to brick works

where a man and woman born enslaved

are buying supplies for the first

brick townhouse. To take us to the river,

the ferry, the bridge, the school, the store,

diner, theater, botanicaiglesia,

taqueria. To lead us back home.


You have to sit a spell in a place

to capture its full flavor. To watch

from your front porch as the road’s straightened

and smoothed, see the couple from Barcroft

throttle the bus gamely uphill.

Watch abandoned pastures sprout

radio towers to talk with Paris,

thrust up garden apartment blocks

where bachelors starch clean uniforms

for tomorrow’s shift at the Pentagon.

Embrace a church. Rebuild a school.

Bury a loved one in its soil.


You have to listen to a place

a long time to hear its blues:

forest to farm, hills sown with stones,

Freedman’s Village, Queen City paved

to park cars. Streetcars falter,

no longer leave the lot. Metro

junctions gape empty, the line unbuilt.

Even the porches are long gone, now.

And always: the quiet padding of feet

from longhouses by the river

as the ghosts of indigenous settlers

carve out new trails up ahead.


Copyright Katherine E. Young, 2017. This is an original poem written for Arlington County by the Arlington Poet Laureate, a program of Arlington Cultural Affairs and Arlington Public Library.