Dale Cottingham is of mixed race, part Choctaw, part White. He is a Bread Loafer, was a finalist in the 2021 Great Midwest Poetry Contest, won the 2019 New Millennium Award for poem of the year, was nominated for 2021 Best of Net and has published poems in many journals including Ploughshares and Prairie Schooner, and book reviews in Rain Taxi and other venues. His forthcoming book of poems, Midwest Hymns, is due to be out in Autumn, 2022. He lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.
A Free Country
Pushcart Nominee 2022
It wasn’t the speed. And it wasn’t
the all night drive to the gulf to see her.
It wasn’t the spent coffee cups in my passenger seat
or the closed up gas stations when I needed gas or
the urgent voice of talk radio.
If the line I carved was from my life,
that was good, if it was for my life, even better.
From roadside strip malls waiting for tomorrow’s
big thrills to harsh words spoken and
thrown in the ditch, the public road was open.
Houses were dark. Reading clubs weren’t reading.
Last night’s hymns had faded into air and parishioners
who said see you next Sunday found a way back
to their place. In other words,
I was alone on that road,
I was allowed through.
And having arrived after those hours in the dark
I ask: what was that all about?
One minute I was speeding at a furious pace
and the next I am stopped wondering what is this place.
It so often happens that once on the road we take
we don’t know what we’re doing or what figure we make.
And just as freedom gives permission, sets us free,
we scrawl a line all the way to the sea.