The Secret Knowledge of Backroads by Lauren Turner
For Henry ‘Gip’ Gipson
There’s no app for being stuck at the train. There’s not even a feature in the map app for that. They have built the internet so tall that our faces lead double lives within a Cloud, but when the train stops—we’re all catapulted back on earth, where you either know the backroads around it or you don’t. The AM station is my backroad of choice, the eight bar static slowing time down enough to sit along with the train, not in opposition to it. I don’t know this song but it narrates my situation anyway. My baby caught the train / she gonna be gone long. Once, I sat at a crossroads while my love got out to dance in front of the blinking red lights. I honked along to the beat. We were on our way to Gip’s Place, a backyard juke joint which felt like the Cloud and the earth had reached a crossroads. Maybe they were perpetually waiting for the train of time to render backyard intimacy among strangers obsolete, for the Cloud to claim forever. For his whole life, Gip dug graves by day and hosted these blues shows by night. I heard that he died last year, and I have to wonder: Who was it that dug into the earth to prepare his way?
Lauren Turner is a writer and musician (Lou Turner) in Nashville, TN. She is the author of Shape Note Singing (forthcoming from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press in 2021). Her poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Image Journal, Cathexis Northwest Press, Chapter 16, and more. She serves as a blog editor for the freeform community radio station WXNA FM in Nashville, where she hosts her literary program, “The Crack In Everything.” Her recent album Songs for John Venn was called ‘quietly imaginative’ by NPR Music.
Photo by Diomari Madulara