“I don’t like restriction of natural water flow,” the King tells
me when I mention the dams and reservoirs. “To me that’s
like weather modification.” He goes on to explain how the gov-
ernment changes the weather. I steer the conversation to the
wealthy people who spend their summers at the lakes. Does he
like them? “The lake people are humble people, thoughtful,” he
says, “unlike the local people, who often don’t understand. I can’t
complain. The mindset of most Americans is to go to the store
and buy things. But the lake people, they understand. I could be
out of money and send a prayer, and the rich people come and
buy. You can’t leave it up to politicians!” So the King builds and
builds for the wealthy. From kudzu he builds headboards, giant
sun umbrellas, drawers, hammocks. . . “I have Adult ADHD,”
he says. “I like to work on several projects at once.”
Behind his little house is a warehouse gigantic enough to
make a New York artist die of envy. Large kudzu angels are tied
to the balustrades, as if watching over you. In the middle of the
warehouse lies the King’s casket; it looks like a boat. “Everybody
should make their own casket, don’t you think?” he asks. “It’s
not a bad thing to die,” he says enthusiastically. If it’s my time
to go I go! I’ll lie down in the kudzu patch and be gone in no
time. If I lay down there in the summertime for a day or two, you
wouldn’t know I was ever there.”
King Kudzu knows something about death. When he was
nineteen, his brother was beaten up by another man in the vil-
lage. “I run up to help him, and I got cut up. So they brought me
back to life, but that was a good feeling, too. It’s hard to explain.
You quit breathing, your heart quits working, and all your body
functions quit. Imagine how restful, peaceful feeling that is. The
few seconds that I was out, when they was shocking me, I rested
more than I have ever rested my whole life.”
The man who cut him up walked free. “I tried to get him
justice,” King Kudzu says, “but living in an area where the justice
is based on other things, you don’t always get justice. This area
works di=erently. You just take what you get and go on. See, I
was just a poor little country boy with a bad arm. It’s like being
black or Indian. They just treat you di=erent.”
And so King Kudzu continues to rely on his own creative
power and strength. While kudzu causes the death of trees, it
is his life. Georgia Power has given him full access to its land,
and until he lies down in his kudzu casket, he intends to con-
tinue his Sisyphean feat of saving the trees of Rabun County
from the death grip of the vine. “It’s like any natural force,”
King Kudzu says. “You use it to your advantage. For me the
glass is always full.” A
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dirtyard studded with dogshit & weeds.
That gutted two-cycle on the frontstep —
you know what i’m talking about.
not a sound. not even the wind.
in the fencecorner nearest the cottonwood,
the dogs hunch, long muscles rippling
beneath scabbed hides.
Just out of reach
the rotting, undone body of a deer sways.
Winched up with a comealong, way up,
so the dogs or whoever
can’t get at it.
When i go there with you now
i’m twenty feet tall.
i reach over, thumb the pawl —
let the shame of that soft, black, fly-bitten carcass
Watch with a warm heart
the dogs feast.
The screendoor to the house
was wide & windheld as an old man’s rotten mouth.
The toolshed padlocked. i couldn’t find a ladder.
The tree branchless for at least twenty feet,
i tried scrabbling up anyway,
somehow tore my hand open,
my palm, the very spot
they’d bang a Jesus nail. as it was
my own dark blood welled up
& spilled into my lifeline,
ran that crease like some ancient river channel—
islanding my thumb, blood thinning & falling
as two ropes of China rose,
pooling, finally, in the dust,
where the dogs smelled it
& went wild.
— Joe Wilkins