Take the Nearest Detour
by Candace Butler

The next time you drive through
the mountains of southern Virginia
take a couple of long, winding roads
out of your way. Stop at a small gas station
with bags on the pump handles
on purpose. Fold up your map
with its road names and numbers
and compass and ask the person
leaning on an elbow at the counter
how to get back to the interstate,
you’ve made a wrong turn.
Listen to the directions,
right past the silo,
take a left when you see the three
big crosses (you can’t miss them),
then there will be a fork in the road,
and you’ll want to stay toward the left.
From there you go about, oh I don’t know,
what would you say, a few miles?
A few miles. And you should be able to
find the interstate and follow the signs
from there. Before you go, browse the
couple of aisles, pass by the baby food jars
with expiration dates nearly eight years past,
the rows of gum and candy bars in dust.
Settle for an overpriced drink or
a lottery ticket.
Look closely at the peeling sticker
on the slush puppy machine by the register.
It will be cracked teal where
there used to be a deep ultramarine.
The corners will be peeling, a sticky
border where they used to lay flat.
Once you pay, follow the directions.
Chant them over the low murmur
of the radio. Listen close, now,
this is the most important part.
Look at every cornfield,
feel the depth of the forest, take in
the “Jesus loves you” graffiti
on a gutted trailer.

You might never find this place again.

SOURCE: Previously published by Dirty Chai in Issue Two: Adventureland.

PHOTOGRAPH: “Mountains of Appalachia” by Patsy Phillips. Prints available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Candace Butler is a poet, musician, and artist residing in her hometown of Sugar Grove, Virginia — a small town in the Appalachian Mountains. Her poetry appears widely in journals and anthologies, and she is working on her first full-length book of poetry. Candace holds an MFA in Creative Writing Program from Antioch University of Los Angeles (AULA), and is former poetry co-editor of Lunch Ticket. Find more of her poetry at