Every time I go home to El Dorado, Arkansas, I can’t seem to fight the feeling that someone or something is trying to kill me. To reach El Dorado, one must fly to either Little Rock, Arkansas or Monroe, Louisiana. It is then a two-hour drive from the airport to the small town of 18,000. As you snake through the roads, surrounded by occasional cow fields or chemical plants or abandoned plantation turf, you’ll notice that there is more roadkill than there are people on the roads. Armadillos, deer, possums, raccoons all scattered in varying degrees of mess. The only animals clever enough to avoid getting hit are the vultures, who I assume devour the street carrion believing that lightning will not strike twice. After all, how many people voluntarily migrate to El Dorado?
After enough trips to and from this place, the roadkill becomes a game. Who can spot and identify the dead thing first. Deer are easy because they are the largest, and are usually accompanied by a spray of glass from the headlights they did not see coming. Chickens and ducks scatter feathers. One time, we hit a duck and what followed could only be described as an explosion— feathers billowing as if remnants of a pillow war.
As a native northerner gone south, I cannot imagine this place without seeing the blood in the warm soil. The sunken southern humidity bakes an unsettled feeling into my skin. To my surprise, there are Black people in El Dorado. In fact, nearly 50% of the people living in El Dorado are Black. If you live above the poverty line, you will rarely see them. That’s why they built the railroad. People will tell you that too. There are tracks, quite literally, that were not meant to be crossed.
In town, there is every fast food joint you can think of. A Wal-Mart. An Applebee’s. A local holiday was nearly declared on the Friday that TJ Maxx had its grand opening. For fashion, go to the City Style or Rue 21. The Fish Fry Shack always has fresh catfish. Arkansas is a landlocked state. Don’t ask where the catfish comes from. Down the way is the “Klean Kar Wash,” which seems like a questionable use of the letter K. One K short from a white hood and a pitchfork, and proving me right about this place.
A billboard near town displays a woman holding a shotgun. The message reads “Buy your wife a diamond; receive a free gun.” There is no way to know whether this is a gun store that sells jewelry or a jewelry store that sells guns. But every New Year’s Eve, come midnight, the sky alights with exploding metal. There are no fireworks here, but the sound is the same. There are guns where I come from too.
What I understand of “The South” is nothing and everything. I expect to be called nigger. I haven’t. I expect to see confederate flags. I have. I expect to be treated like a foreigner. I haven’t. I expect to be pulled over and never told what I did wrong. I have. I expect that there are places, certain bars, certain restaurants, where I still need to look over my shoulder. Not necessarily for fear of attack. But for that unspoken too-focused gaze from the wrong eyes. It’s frequent. The lingering look that says something like
“I wasn’t expecting to see someone like you here. In my space. I have my own ideas of what you are too, you know.”
About the author:
Dave Harris is a spoken word poet and playwright from West Philly. As a playwright, his plays have been featured at Philadelphia Young Playwrights, New Haven Arts and Humanities Co-Op High School, Yale Playwrights Festival, the Annual Festival of New Work, UMASS Amherst, The 24 Hour Plays: Nationals, and the Yale Repertory Theater. As a poet, his work has been published or is forthcoming in The Huffington Post, Button Poetry, Upworthy, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, The Adroit Journal, The New Journal, Blueshift Journal, Freeze Ray Poetry, Up the Staircase Quarterly and The Misanthropy amongst others. He is one of the winners of Write Bloody Publishing’s 2016 Book Contest, and his debut collection of poetry will be published in 2017.