West Virginia Issue
Abandoned Pontiac, Erbacon, West Virginia, by Kevin Scanlon
Abandoned Pontiac, Erbacon, West Virginia, by Kevin Scanlon
And then I arrive at the powerful green hill
Up, up, I follow
the creek bed through downed branches
on spongy leaves, rimed and slippery.
The way is clear because
it is late winter,
wet snow patches
the runoff cold, cold to the touch
a tang of ice still in it.
And then I arrive at the powerful green hill,
my place, my exact location,
where I most began and started from
where I will end beneath this ground.
I have brought everything I’ve left undone
letters and resolutions, almost loves,
hard grudges – to give to the wind that takes them up,
tosses them down, down until
my hands are empty and I am as thin and light as a girl.
(Previously published in Iron Mountain Review: Maggie Anderson Issue, Spring 2005)
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you never would have set out.
-- C.P. Cavafy
Like one of Cavafy’s young boys lurking
in the dark cafes of Alexandria for love,
I was close to the grammarians and the aristocrats,
living in Pennsylvania among the exiled
Greeks, who fed me ripe pistachios
and bites of lamb. They sang me songs
about the blue fields of garlic,
stone streets and white houses,
dark curtains drawn against the noon.
We drank strong coffee and they read my future
in the muddy grounds: You will work
along the edges all your life, never at the center
and never rich, but a good friend of the rich
especially in your later years.
I felt myself beloved of all the poets I read:
one of Auden’s men, one of Sappho’s women,
one of the animals of Gerald Stern,
My Greeks taught me the sound of waves
over black beaches, showed me seashells smaller
than a fingernail, the yellow moon –
fengare – reflected in the sea.
I learned six words for love
and the word for daisy which is my name --
how to say the big sea, little orange tree,
and my child. Sometimes they called me that --
pithemou – and in those days we were as
little children, making our first visions,
setting out on our journeys.
(Previously published in Artful Dodge, Issue 46/47, under the title "In These Days" in a very different version.)
-- for Steve Witte (1943-2004)
Here is the spot where the drake and heron
come to feed, the wetlands in Ohio behind
his house. His brilliant mind gave way
beneath an avalanche of random cells
and at the end he slept four days and nights.
I wish I could tell him that this week the tiny
spoons of the dogwood blossoms turned
and drew music up from the drenched ground,
that the redbuds came out all at once,
and trout ran again in the swift streams from the mountains.
Through writing we uncover one way of healing
by answering the urge to make, by refusing to destroy.
One afternoon I read to him The Old Man and the Sea.
It was for myself I read, a way to keep company
with him while he was busy with his dying.
It seemed he had found himself in an “unlucky boat.”
But when I read the words, “big fish,” he raised his arm
as if he heard me and recognized, as if he were
about to cast his line out into still water.
By early morning it had begun to rain, or maybe
I dreamed it. Still I can show you on the map
the spot where it happened. Right here, right here.
(Previously published in Iron Mountain Review: Maggie Anderson Issue, Spring 2005)
Trying to become more organic, more kind,
responsible for my carbon footprint
I ask the neighbor girl to help me pick egg-laying
chicks from a catalogue.
We raise them in a cardboard box,
she knows each one by the color of down,
by beaks and feet,
teaches her sad-faced dog not to attack
after they are grown,
strutting their red capes around the yard.
None have died like I expected,
the coop too small for fifteen bantering hens.
So I hang a tin funnel from the clothesline,
snag a scratching pullet from the yard,
push her feathery breast down the funnel,
pull her head through the tiny hole.
She looks ridiculous upside down in her silver skirt,
squawking, waving her feet in the air.
With curious black-pebble eyes
she juts her head, up and down, left and right.
Holding a knife and a copy of Mother Earth News
my husband slits the jugular, careful
not to cut the esophagus or spine.
Across the field the girl comes running.
My head screams, Go home, Go home.
With newly cut hair and flowered jeans she stands
still as a mannequin next to the hanging bird
her mouth an Oh
as blood drips like a metronome to the bucket below.
I remember when I was her age,
my first time watching death,
my cackling aunt in the yard
with a hatchet, placing a Buckeye Brown
on a stump, neck between two nails.
Inside our garage, over a gas burner,
a giant pot clangs its lid like a fairytale.
My husband hangs onto the hen’s scaly legs
as the girl holds his wrist watch, timing a one-minute bath.
We pluck feathers by the handful,
place the pale puckered body in a tub of ice.
The girl walks home, slow,
two tears sliding down her apple cheeks.
Three days later she eats the chicken
with peas and mashed potatoes.
Finding my mother’s recipe for chicken corn soup,
I recall her voice on the phone asking,
why chickens, you have a job and a supermarket.
I pull stubborn leftover feathers
her voice persists, your father grew calluses
converting the henhouse into a print shop.
I boil the meat off the bone,
those hockey tickets, church bulletins, wedding invitations,
put you through college.
Outside a hawk snatches an Araucana,
a mass of orange speckled feathers by the barn.
Sarah thrashes like she’s demon possessed
as Mike grabs, holds, flips
until she leans limp against his thighs
quits her sopranoed baas.
You would think she’d want
to get that dense dirty coat shorn.
Beads of sweat from Mike’s brow drop into her wool.
Dennis, in last years blood-stained overalls, instructs,
open the belly wool first
watch her woowoo.
Professionals do one every five minutes,
a hundred and fifty per day at two dollars a head.
We shear five in two and a half hours,
tell stories in-between changing cutters or sweeping excrement
while Brown-Eyed Susans sway in the field.
Saturday night at Wal-Mart on the clearance rack
a bright blue box glimmers at me.
Be Sensual. Go bare as the day you were born.
The next morning after church, dreaming of sex,
I heat the jar of honey gold, lock the bathroom.
The first pass is hell.
There’s no way that hundred-and-ten pound
yellow-bikinied girl on the box ever did this to herself.
I think of the ewes, Esmeralda lying flaccid and panting,
the buzzing shears, the hot sun, the slips.
Afterwards I call my sister to whine about the pain.
She says she gave the wax up years ago,
suggests boy-cut bikini bottoms.
She doesn’t understand
it’s not about looking good at the beach.
But Oh the sex was like Eden,
like that song of Madonna’s, about the virgin.
A new thing to crave.
The next day in the barn
Sarah stands by the feed trough
stomps her right forefoot, snorts.
You would think she’d understand
she’s done. It’s the wooly ones we want.
From the pasture with the pond
Rambo watches, struts, practices his sensuality.
While the electric shears vibrate
I hold Esther’s spotted face in my hands,
stare into her marble eyes,
There, There, I whisper,
think how the wind will cool your skin
and the sex is coming. Next Wednesday we’ll let Rambo in.
In a dusty flat Hispanic town
four girls and I, fresh from college, begin in a new home.
Like our grandmothers
we sun tea in the backyard and bake lentils,
knit blue cotton sweaters and mend work clothes.
But we know how to replace shingles,
change tires, question our bald-headed preacher.
We play pool and drink Coke Saturday nights at Abe’s.
Summer evenings we roast chilies
listening to the Cowboy Junkies,
dreaming of Mennonite boys with rhythm.
We wonder if we’ll stay with the church,
what we’ll change, throw away, clutch.
Linda misses home, farm country,
straw hats and suspenders,
the thick sounds of Pennsylvania Dutch.
So we patch our favorite jeans with flannel hearts,
French braid our hair
and head off on a three hour road trip
in an orange Scout, yelling quilt names:
Ohio Rose, Tumbling Blocks, Drunkard’s Path.
Loud, beautiful and braless
we lift our tie-dyed T-shirts
to flash men in Jeeps and convertibles
like handing out blessings.
Two boys lip-synching to Meatloaf
follow us twenty miles.
In Rocky Ford
we find the fairgrounds.
Mennonites load tables with carrots and tomatoes,
bushels of cantaloupes, jars of warm apple butter.
We drink cider and eat sausage and kraut sandwiches,
listen to the auctioneer sell antique rocking horses,
handmade hope chests.
Outside the barn we find wrinkled, laughing women
slicing fresh strawberry pies.
They try to connect us to them,
figure out where we come from,
who our grandparents are.
I want them,
their thick useful hands,
their bantering like chickens
but I want my independence, too:
that woman hopping off her Silver Wing,
her long grey braid swaying from her helmet
saddle bags full of home preserves
wrapped in her own rag-weaved blankets.
(with thanks to Mark Doty)
They’re here already, all the elements of paradise. I’m driving
the West Virginia Turnpike, alone in my 4X4, and it’s April again,
with Tim McGraw’s latest CD and the maples’ new green,
redbud shimmering, as if the mountains were spouting
not acid drainage but pink champagne. If sausage biscuits
and my unnatural passion for Krispy Kreme were to stop my heart
right now? Or a drunken trucker, or a rockslide after spring rain,
or a passel of homophobes, or, hell, a meteorite fate has aimed too well?
Well, given the choice, I could drive the Mountain State for eternity,
with a few minor modifications. What’s crucial and most salient
about any recipe for heaven? What’s left in and what’s left out.
No mountaintop removal, no yippy dogs, no badly behaved brats,
no fucking fundamentalists. Only Cabin Creek, running clear
as it was in the Cherokee years. I’ve got that box of doughnuts,
a bag of my father’s sausage/mayonnaise/fresh tomato biscuits,
a cup of coffee, a flask of moonshine, a cooler of beer. The gas
never runs out, sunshine slants and tilts against the wet flex
of thunderstorm. Tim McGraw’s here in more than voice, grinning,
shirtless. His chest is hairy, sweaty, and in this April light, his skin
seems lightly glazed with gold. I pass him a biscuit, he passes me a beer.
Tonight’s stop is Helvetia, a big Swiss meal, may apples along the creek,
a bed so small ravishing’s required. And after that? It’s West Virginia,
so all delights are here. Tomorrow, perhaps, a campfire on Spruce Knob,
dawn’s surf breaking over Seneca Rocks, a cabin above the Bluestone River
in October’s sugar maple burn. Tim first, then Eric Bana, then Gerard Butler,
then every other man I have ever hankered for and been denied,
and then my patient partner John, with two cats and a farmhouse, isolated,
sprawling, in the Potomac Highlands. Heaven’s only Appalachia perfected.
Heaven’s a pickup truck and two men together, in cowboy hats and boots,
singing endlessness along mountain backroads. We’re hitting St. Albans’
Red Line Diner for hot dogs and fries, rocking in starlight over Lost River.
We’re swimming in the simmering New, liquid jade below Sandstone Falls,
making love along the Greenbrier, beneath sarvisberry and redbud bloom,
in this year’s bluebells and bloodroot, last year’s humus and fallen leaves.
Seven League Boots
And as it ever shall be. . .
so here, the red
car flashing past, silvery
fins, a blur, its wake awakening me
to when I was
long ago, on a corner
in Fort Wayne, and the sky
just then lifting
over the night’s ravaged horizon of storm,
lifting itself into blue blazes and men
soon wiping their brows
miserable in their Sunday best
slouching out from First Christian,
and I thought I knew
something then about
Sunday afternoons and the peace
of quiet and the steady breeze and Mother
lying down in the bedroom
and Pop coming out from there after
and smoking a rare cigarette
and that faraway smile
I would only see then
and on those nights he fell asleep
reading Richard Halliburton
while the fights
droned on in the background
and perhaps he never did
look sharp as the commercial urged
but he did look
like a goddamned god to me.
("Seven League Boots was fiirst published in Tipton Poetry Journal, , Winter 2008. Richard Halliburton was a popular travel/adventure writer of the 1920’s and 1930’s. His last book was Seven League Boots.)
I was not at home but wandering a demolition site,
the air acrid with sulfuric shreds of headlines.
“We will not listen. We will not listen. We will not listen.”
I heard the chant in English and it seemed wrong.
I heard the chant and wondered if it was the latest pop
and it seemed wrong.
It seemed wrong because I was not in the States or Britain or Canada, but
I was in a very hot place and it was called Hell. It was called
the Middle East. It was called Iraq.
And I didn’t know what I was doing there but it was here and then it was gone.
It was a waste place doubly damned. It was a land full of craters bombed twice.
And an old man, he was a grandfather, wandered the wasted street,
and there was a little boy uplifted into the arms of a naked tree
and he just hung there, limp, a narrow branch skewered into him,
entering below his collar bone and exiting his back under his right shoulder,
and this had not yet killed him, and his sister, it was, lay face down, neatly,
in the sand, perfectly intact, it would seem, but how long could she breathe and eat sand?
I wandered in my daze, in my dream, and only the old man seemed awake,
and he asked me what to call this, asked who would tell their names, the names of these
two children, the names of all the children and the names of the old men like himself who
now hold in their hands in place of memory only a broken heart, broken
pieces of a heart no oil can ever fix.
("Even the Tin Man Had a Heart" was first published in The Progressive , Sept. 2003.)
Under the gum tree, smoldering with its red leaves, a deer forages in the shadows. Across the road a woman throws dishwater on the last of her roses – an old habit, unnecessary, but ingrained. She pauses, wipes her hands on her apron, looks to the west where the sun has slit a peach vein into the graying night and wonders that another day is passing. The deer lifts its head, listens. There are a few crickets yet ticking in the garden. A screech owl whinnies from the edge of the wood. The woman turns. Headlights creep around the far curve of the road. The neighbors going out for the night. She used to go out. She used to know the night as different than it is now. The deer has disappeared when she wasn’t watching. Much like life disappears. For years she persisted in believing that it was just slipping away from her, gradually, when, in fact, it was stolen on a warm night in October, ten years ago at that precise moment when she wasn’t watching.
("Just Like That" was first published in Cider Press Review, Vol. 8, 2007.)
He knows better than to pretend to say something about the transcendent symmetry of gulls, or about the symmetry of any birds for that matter. His neighbor, in madras shorts and pork-pie hat, has shot an occasional crow. It seems unnecessary, even cruel -- no one farms around here -- but it’s best to get on with one’s neighbors. He does, though, hate the wheezing rumble of the man’s pool pump, as much because it reminds him that he really does live here, deep in the suburbs, as that it keeps him awake. Maybe on an extraordinary day he would see gulls come sailing in over top of this land-locked county. One of them would land and, cock-sure in his sailor suit of white and gray, would strut across the backyard, taking command of all who live here inside the secure boundaries of America. The gull would speak and the ice would be real where it broke off the edges of words, words that then told the true news of the world above and beyond these safe and sheltering trees.
Jacob Klein draws little circles upon the ragged map he holds open under a street lamp. He is finding his place in the drizzle of an ancient city on an ancient road, ready to call it a night, to fasten the noose, loop the rope over the rafter and step onto the chair while History begins to march her legions up from the black river. The wind rises and he steps back into the shadows. Snow-thunder. A danse macabre in helmets of ice they come. Long pennants of fire. A prickling crawls the back of his neck. The heavy stamp of many feet. The roll of drums. Hollywood should stage this, he thinks, but without him. He listens for the screaming to begin, looks for the shuffling, panicked retreat, but they all died years ago when no one was looking. Taken out back and shot and left in a ditch. All of us. This is just stage dressing now. We’ve known it all along. Why pretend there is something new? Isn’t this the thrill, listening to the ticking clock, its dark miracle going on without us? He lights a cigarette to steady his hand. Night before last on the other side of this river in a noisy club below the embankment he had held two kings and an ace of hearts. He was watching then. He is watching now. What might yet come were the clocks stopped and the guns left inside their barracks, dust and silence to keep them company? What might come were a bird to fall into song, and the dawn lift a whispering fog white along the east’s horizon?
To pass the time he connects the dots
between the Pole Star and Betelgeuse and wonders
if there is any map will include him
in tomorrow’s plans.
At the Narcissist Café
Bold and unsharing,
the urban sparrow
under the table
covets the too big
crust of bread.
The jays eat with the sparrows,
too cold and hungry to bother
with Confucian protocol.
Gray sparrows hunched in a ball,
disgruntled starlings under the eves,
and over the snow-ridden trees
the gull casts a scavenging eye.
Round the trash barrel
at day’s end
and a bag lady contend.
the bird bath.
their heads they
roll silvery drops
down their backs,
from their wings.
Suddenly I know a lot about apples,
their chambered star-hearts.
I could talk about the nestled seeds,
beautiful as polished mahogany.
Bitter seeds --
enough cyanide to deter
any who would take and eat.
Hell-bent on propagation,
they’d kill to survive.
In a dream of fire I search for water,
loop a hotel’s canvas hose,
flat as a serpent,
over my arm,
step into a glass elevator
that soars into a sky, opens
to a treeless landscape,
from the five points of a star--
all of them tempting.
No way of knowing
which ones poison,
which ones sweet.
Told that your slippers were found at the top,
I study the ground disturbed by the searchers,
then stumble as you did into the ravine.
Told of the dirt deep in your nails,
I read the earth like Braille,
feeling for the grooves you clawed.
Told of the puncture wound, the blood,
I look for a branch strong and pointed.
But all branches menace.
Father, how you tried
to find your way home.
I search for stones.
Pile them one on the other
to mark your last passage.
Sycamore trees, trunks white as bone,
leaves like rigid hands waving,
sign the air just out of reach.
The year St. Paul’s bulged beyond breaking,
my fourth grade class was exiled
to a narrow room across the street,
former home of The Shamrock Bar.
We filed in the back door, ducking
under the blast of hot, greasy exhaust
from Bulka’s Grill next door.
Inside, forty of us in four long rows
faced Sister Mary Bonaventure.
“I have eyes in the back of my head,”
she told us, and we saw them staring,
unblinking through the black veil.
Once a man knocked
at the never-used front door
asked, “Where’s the bar? The Shamrock?”
Informed that it was now
St. Paul’s Annex, he peered
at us, the chalkboard, crucifix,
statue of Mary, the cheap striped rug,
and rubbed his eyes, a Rip Van Winkle
wondering what happened to the beer,
friends here just last night,
the banter, clink of glass,
ether of the stale, sweet air.
Frozen in this hundred day old snow,
We are too far north
-- you and I.
Your arms have stretched
Groping toward a sun
That will not warm.
I want to cover you
With my coat, console you
In your solitude.
They have made of you
In shade too deep,
Beside a creek
Called a river,
In this land
Of no hills.
We must find a way home.
When the wind from the south
Blows moist and sweet,
When your buds are swollen and tender,
At night I will come for you.
I will spade your ground,
Gently pull you forth,
Swaddle your roots
In warm, wet cloth.
We will leave in darkness,
The North Star at our backs,
And trace the scent of spring
To its source.
There I will plant you
On a hill of white dogwood,
Of redbud already blooming,
And every shade of green growing,
And our roots will reach down
Into the rich black veins
Into this earth.
Impossibly thin, Ann's pizzelles
arrayed cut-glass Christmas plates.
Stalks of wheat embossed the center
of the anise-flavored offerings
she pressed on family, neighbors, friends.
Turning eighty, something snapped.
Machine-like she churned them out
until counters, cupboards, overflowed.
In the hot kitchen,
her work, her body
had grown articulate:
Eat. Remember me.
—and as you darken the rotten, dusky blue
in the sky, you understand everything
about the pirouette for a minute.
You shoo a bee off a loose silver nail
screaming out of the picket fence,
but you can’t help the bell-shaped flowers,
of Solomon’s Seal, dropping over so
its leaves are a ribcage full of wind—
And this feeling wants to be everywhere
and means it, begs all intoxication
into sculpture—just by waiting, engine-like,
until night can’t be or remember a sound.
Hornets sew up the afternoon, their frenzy
outdoing yours & the onslaught of mint
as you empty another bag of apples, sit back,
& let gnats bully the air. You’re not angry
for putting everything off, not listening
until now—& now unremarkable silence.
You think of your mother watering hosta,
leaves neon with sun, the usual yellowing,
hawks cinching the sky & sending her gaze to larch
as she thinks of you. She’d write,
but you’d lose the words, pages like lacewings,
& the meaning—quick fish from a loon’s beak—
Even in this dream, you allow other ones—
the matches eaten; the wound sighed into;
all that running to or fro, & while the sky
burns late, gleaning light from anything near,
you wonder how alike your lives,
this day, & all the rest will have been.
I’ve been naked for my last five
nightmares, naked with a fan
in a yard under a neon sign
that reads “Somewhere
Between Misplaced and Thrilled”
but the letters are burning out
one by one by neon blue one
and when it’s dark my mouth turns
to stone but my body stays flesh
and are they nightmares at all
these dreams that coax me up
hair in my face and eyes
and coconut everywhere
coconut from a wash
at the salon below your studio
where I go
to be closer to your brushstrokes—
those blue sweeps between you and this
Morgantown where everyone
is going away but staying for now
and I’m going away but staying
for what, so back to sleep
on the mascara tracks on my pillow
with a new dream that turns
brushstrokes into drum beats
while my voice enters a cloud
filled with red dust
or even better, a cloud
filled with fireworks
or even better
I fall again
into the same nightmare
and I look both ways
as the last neon letters
buzz, crackle, burn
I always look both ways
before leaving a place
to make sure it’s worth leaving
and usually it is but not always
not as often as I’d like
to see you and nothing in the black
of lips becoming stone becoming
one dark brushstroke.
Come Blow Your Horn
August. A Wednesday night
around nine, nine-thirty.
On the darkened, Eighth-Avenue side
Goldsmit-Sydnor’s Wholesale Groceries, Tobacco, and Candies
and still mostly muscled, still young man
stands with, I suppose his family.
He’s stripped to the waist
and in the pallor of a single overarching
on the opposite side of the avenue
exploded pecs, arms, and shoulders show
of reflected blue and yellow
pink and white.
In his right hand
he holds a can maybe a beer can. To his
are two small children boys, I think
handsome dark-haired woman
a big-leg young woman, in summer shorts
carrying a small child, a baby, on her right hip.
Except for the baby, all of them are
peering to their right, down the dim avenue toward an approaching coal truck
its two moonybright eyes peering back at them.
Wave your arms, kids! C’mon! Wave your arms!
the big daddy-man bellows. And he and the kids
wave and mama waves.
Blow your horn! C’mon—Blow your horn!
and they say it, shout it to the trucker small caterwaul
they all shout Blow your horn! your horn!
your horn! your horn! horn!
Blow your horn
for the asking
for making the need unmistakably clear
particular kind of broad and rousing boldness—Come on!
Come blow your horn.
And of course in the passing roar of the diesels
the driver does
blow his horn—two brief, freon-frightful blasts
he sounds his horn
and sets some things straight again for a little while.
the glass panes of the kitchen door—
an old movie poster’s
and five familiar faces run
round and up into the sunlight—coming home
through the beaming yellow curtains.
The sunlight rests
and gathers on
and all around her as she hugs a cream-colored mixing bowl
in the crook of her left arm. In her right hand she holds
an old steel serving spoon poised before her lips.
From the bowl steam rises
to touch the salient turns and angles
of her own
surprising face. And seeing you, she speaks
amid the brightening dance and drift
of countless sunny motes:
I put a little kelp
and a little safflower oil
there wasn’t any butter
and they’re good really good.
Remember? how angry you’d get
when those big-ass boats
back when they had fins
fin their fishy way
through the streets of your neighborhood
back when you had a neighborhood
the snotty and red-smudged kleenex
the cigarettes, and cigar butts
the wads of gum
and sticky food wrappers, all of it
from the hum
of electrically operated
gliding, briefly, and less than half-way down
gaping, glassy mouths fishy maws.
how they finless
trash you and me
don’t tear your dewy
lips kissing my muddy boots;
soon the morning sun
will drink the sky from your mouth
and turn the world warm.
(En route from Shinnston to Clarksburg, WV Sunday afternoons, 1960’s)
Don’t map the trip
It’s etched only in memory
a journey between
those graying hours of
late December to mid-March
when the glass and gaudy
have been tissue papered
inside cartons and relegated
to basements and attics.
Where the slagscape glows
eerily yet curvaceous along
the West Fork River.
It is Cherry Blend tobacco
flying ash upon
“Open the window!”
sighs of relief.
In those days
everyone had time
for pipe dreams.
The signs were all there-
Limestone Junction approached.
Destination: Robinson Grand Theater
Clarksburg had indeed arrived!
A western or a Dean Martin film?
Either way, for an eight year old
the real choice lies within
those tempting glass candy counters.
Ushers and hushes
signal the awaited moment.
Darkened curtains part
as the plush seat envelops…
One tug on the box
and pink and white Good-N-Plenty
were on a roll-downward.
Turkish Taffy became the treat-of-choice
after that “licorice moment.”
It was all downhill after that.
Windshield wipers knife
their way through slush,
sending intermittent postcards
that wash up-
It is a movement
through time and place
in those future-lapped miles.
We returned to Oglebay Park, just you
and me. I asked if you wanted your picture
taken under the hanging purple
petunias. You said “no”. I knew the answer would be
“no”, but I asked anyway. Small courtesies mean a lot
twenty plus years into a marriage.
My daughter called later that evening,
asked if the Good Zoo still had a sloth.
I never remembered the sloth. Neither did my husband.
But I said “No, it wasn’t there,” as if it should have been.
A while later, my other daughter called in the midst of
befriending a stray cat-- one blue eye, one brown.
Seems it didn’t like the spaghetti, but the yogurt worked.
I remind her not to let it bite. Strays carry diseases.
At the zoo, the afternoon sun caught the jungle gym just right.
It almost looked new, as it did years ago when the girls
climbed inside and stuck their heads out, pretending to be monkeys.
I bought votive candles at the gift shop. Two for four dollars.
Rainwater scent. When I catch a whiff of them, the earth
still holds promise and petunias matter.
Crickets hop past husks
Cellar walls sprout wings and webs
Not birth! Not death! Spring
chortling the trees
a few off-year cicadas
in first August sun
an ant crawls over
the rock face, crossing lichen
and cigarette butts
from the frisbee
golf field honey
coal cars below
from the tracks
Ladies of the night used to hang at this red light,
herded here by the cops, by the buyers,
a whole armed economy of love & drugs
& getting by near the grit of the CSX rail
road, its lumps of coal caught in the tar
& tires of pick-ups that rumble past the repair
shop, the sweet ka-thump, ka-thump
& timber bending of the overpass, bearing
the weight of ton upon ton of coal cars growl-
ing through the cold. Citizens scoot beneath,
shunting down Hal Greer, cringing under
the pay-for-it promise and threats of the billboards
that loom over the tracks (loans, schools,
DUI, paternity testing) that quietly lunge
toward the housing project across the street,
whose scuffed refrain seems silenced
in the morning when workers rise, when
cars zoom by, headed down town, when ladies
whose husbands are in ICU shuffle by
on their twenty-block walk through the grey
& groggy light, over condom wrappers,
past half white-washed walls, past the statue
of Carter G. Woodson, riding the pain
all share & ride on by (this sidewalk, unswept
dump of broken asphalt, breeched timber,
bent tines, & beer tins) to recues ourselves
from stopping before what we want to meet.
Walking West 6th Avenue in Huntington
I saw a pumpkin-colored Mercedes convertible
Florida license plates Volusia County
Two bullet holes through its windshield
Three flat tires
It bubbled a dermatological case
Of paint blisters
On both doors &
All bottom panels
I glanced around suspiciously
Peered into the repair shop window
Then peeled a slice of rusted paint
It slid off easy but dripped pieces &
Powders of rust I could smell
The Iron Oxide I peeled another strip &
Began to chew it The exact taste
Of metal in some well waters
Undrinkable Probably leaded too
Poisonous "Beautiful car"
I said Spitting on the sidewalk
(“Mercedes” appeared originally in The Sow’s Ear Poetry Journal)
In a deep orange twilight beneath the leafless gingko
on a tarpaulin of yellow leaves one
mile south of the ghost town Melissa West Virginia
Randolph Gunnoe's red '58 Ford Econoline flat-
bed lugging a dozen junked cars smashed flat
idles in the blue haze of its 40-weight Valvoline
motor oil Hank Williams riding shotgun in nicotine
air of Country nine-owe-three "It's Bubba
to all you my friends" Randolph is excited talkative
but his lean daughter Cynthianna is mute "She don't
want any your help or mine Most she would
take from you right now might be a pair of leather work
gloves so she don't break off her orange and blue sculpted nails
Cost her foolish twenty dollars downtown"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Randolph tells me she'll have the tire changed "in the whisper
of an eyelash" As I watch her cat-like
moves tap a twenty-pound maul on the lug wrench to loosen
six rusted chrome lug nuts and he talks "This road here
is a barrel of worms drunk on epilepsy
juice But the Lord will straighten it out" He tells me then
"What do you think of the Lord?" he asks I stare at him
in dazed silence "Just remember" he winks
"I know your deeds and thoughts I know you are neither hot
nor cold I wish you were hot or cold Because you are
lukewarm and neither hot nor cold I will
spit you out of my mouth" I am happy that Randolph
is not doing the spitting here Happy to see he's
not chewing tobacco Happy to see
he's not dipping snuff Happy to see he does not have
a cut-in-two empty R C can or any white
Styrofoam cup or an Ashland coffee mug
Tiny broken blood vessels dipped in and rode out of
the deep creases in his gaunt tanned cheeks His face blue
shadow His skin soft thick silk-like Each eye-
lash red tar Bald skull When he closed his eyes to lift both
hands to the nude gingko in the failed blue sky I stare
at his eyes moving up to unseen stars
beneath those translucent eyelids Smashed cars tilt light
in gusts of November air lugging a lost dog's hill-
side bark downgrade to riverbed Auto
wheels pried off Layer upon squeaky layer the geology
of Detroit rises in rust moonward on the flatbed back
of Gunnoe's battered Ford Hudsons like green lilies
A crow-blue Buick Century Even a rice-pink
fish-tailed Cadillac El Dorado Two white Studebakers
laced with green mold A dramatic red and
black Yes! It is an Edsel A few bits of green glass
still imbedded in solid black plastic One '38
Willys -- still shiny -- Its twin headlights larger
than the moon In the calm air I walk slowly around
what must be the thin-foiled fury and rage of two-
million miles of gravel asphalt concrete
and dirt Over rivers and mountains The geography
of America Our almanac of the elsewhere
To touch any part of this is to feel
the cold damp iron mines near Hibbing Minnesota
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
I circle again slowly the truck "See this" he says
and points to what seemed dark tarnished aluminum
foil but on inspection proves to be a single shallow
iris-yellow layer of rusted car flowing like
a thread from front to back "This here is your
Rolls Royce limousine Used to be owned by your Governor
Marley who ended up drunk driving a Yellow Cab
in Chicago. Just looking at this you
know for sure the wages of life is rust and bilge" His
now musical daughter whistled as the tire iron
clanged on the concrete berm and the truck
wrestled its jacked weight earthward Four-cornered springs
twittering at the slice of bent moon White neon hood
in the anthracite starless night "If you're
not in I'm gone Dad" Her voice growling from the truck's front
In the side-panel rear-view mirror her face glowed
radiant in the torch of a cigarette
lighter Her eyes held their twin dabs of light Nothing
at all like tears The old man's hand waved His
wizened face drew back into his
highway "Keep praying Buck" he screeched "Buck?"
(“On the Edge of Highway 10 North” appeared in Backcountry.)
You appear in the mirror,
applauding my efforts to
Your glass head, freshly seen,
gazes steadily at reality
from my own amber-flecked eyes.
Between us are two knuckles
with just one bone, two
bodies with one muscled
power. You change without
being changed, I disappear
without vanishing, And though
you are deaf and dumb, my
sorrowful tongue (clumsy as
garden earth where seeds
all day long) splits your lips,
crisp as lettuce. Your unheard
words call up the corpse
without worms, the heartless
newborn. Each cool diphthong
does not fog. Just fills up
with the furniture
For two months she repeats “trapeze,"
the sacred word for solitude and silence,
somersaulting from one swing to another,
whirling through the air without a net.
In the third an audience appears, encircling
her with it Sapphic eye, its mnemonic heart
exerting a force that cannot be denied.
The fourth stretches and tones her muscles to
an elastic strength that swings her so high
above the loneliness of the three rings—she
rebounds, boomerangs like the known,
where all the strangeness lies.
The fifth finds the tent itself wrapped like a
cocoon in the ancient wisdom of dew—from
which she emerges in the sixth, winging herself
up and wide in a tumbling chase after the
purest principle of air. Its beloved zazen
takes her to the seventh beyond the horizon.
The secret of how it becomes the sky
brings her back in the eighth, where she
counts all her bones, none of them broken.
("Zen Aerialist" was first posted on Falconbridge website.)
back into the dawn
of the one painting she
never finished, growing small
as the hand that made it,
tiny as the brushstrokes
that built the still white cottage
you come to at the end
of a prim rosy path, bordered by
trees whose bare branches
lance the sky. That bullet
streak no god can repair
is a scarlet tanager, those black
windows have shades drawn
half-way like lids. The encircling
forest with its crazy-quilt
bushes, its spaces that glint like
needles, lived first in her mind, so
did the quarter-moon lintel
glowing above the mud-colored door
that looks like someone just
shut it. When mother died, the
chimney started to lean, the cottage
began to tilt a little to
the left, a little to the right, as if
something large inside
was making it stretch and breathe
in the perpetual calm of its
absolute weather. In
the yard, lilac and daffodil
flexed their muscles, gleamed like
the abalone clouds above them.
When you put your eye
to a window, pale shades filled
the dark interior, cool and full
of shadows buoyant as a creek
where sunlight looks like
thin gold wire dredging the
bottom. When you put your nose
to the ground, you
inhale the heady smell of
mandrake root and wild onion. And
if you touch your little finger
to the tiny beacon that suddenly
flares from the attic window,
your finger will come away
("When Mother Died" was first published in The Sow's Ear Poetry Review. )
The Disparate Fates of Einstein’s Brain and Osceola’s Head
Both were put on display—
one in a jar in a research hospital,
one in a sideshow with Barnum & Bailey, after being used
by a soldier daddy to scare his kids.
Guess which was where.
Einstein’s brain, they weighed and dissected,
scalpeled and teased, pried apart pursuing the genius within.
Scientists sliced and cross-sectioned, cut away
until it looked like hors d’oeuvres,
wrinkled wedge-shaped crudités.
Osceola escaped at last, after serving time as a freak—
a renegade fire crackled through his hair
and seared the parched remnants of skin,
burned him to a gray powder,
fine enough to be sifted,
light enough to be carried by the wind.
("The Disparate Fates of Einstein's Brain and Osceola's Head" was also published in Like the Mountains of China, Blair Mountain Press, 2003)
If I had my way,
we’d all sleep together in a
rickety, four-poster bed:
eight beagles, two tabbies, grandma,
my old man, and the hen.
We’d squirm, squeak, and giggle—
snores and sighs rising like balloons
under a silvery roof of tin
under a tent of silvery rain
under a silver-dollar moon—
safe as spoons
and dream together
while the clock
chomps the night
like a bone.
("Crazy Quilt" was previously published in Human Landscapes, Bottom Dog Press, 1997)
What with Johnny Cash dying
and George Bush in the White House,
all in the same season,
and my son moved out to Utah,
all the news is bad news.
I hate to hear it.
I don’t know how I’ll get by.
Everything I see—a run-down trailer,
a house in the woods,
squirrels scalloping lightly
across a dusty road—
makes me cry.
And all the time I’m wondering
who’s going to hum me out of old graves;
who’s going to sing me a train rolling by;
some prison walls for my spirit to climb?
With all that’s gone on
this summer and autumn,
what I’m wanting most—
with how many minutes to go?—
is a new novelty song,
one that makes me laugh at my same old jig
at the end of this same old rope.
("What With Johnny Cash Dying" was also published in Appalachian Heritage, Summer 2005)
I press against the Mondrian rectangles
of the red oak's slate grey bark.
My thumbs touch as I embrace the tree.
Two brothers watch and wonder about poetry.
One pulls a piece of bark from a mountain ash.
The other lets me feel the beating heart inside
a turtle egg.
Would that I could with words put together
bouquets as beautiful as those arranged
by my mother with her flying fingers.
But today, I place the peonies, as instructed,
into soaked floral bricks within oblong
containers and I take them to the graves.
Then I gather roses and other peonies, as
taught upon almost the first remembering,
and give those to mother's living friends.
I lie with my back stretched hard
against the stepping stone.
Sun's rays reflect off my stomach.
I reach up my paws and smell the yarrow
and long-ago squashed catnip.
I let her work around my territory.
Harvest sage, cotton lavender, chives,
southernwood and garlic.
She writes her poems, sings her songs,
snaps my picture in this pose.
She don't bother me, I don't bother her.
We share this garden with its herbs.
I save bits of old found calico,
keep them in a gold Victorian box,
hoard them for a baby's cradle quilt.
Help me to cut the special red
from a Ritchie County attic and to trim
the unbleached muslin just to size.
Help me hand-sew the blocks to border,
to stitch even and small, connecting all
into a poem of nineteenth century prints.
Between the layers, help me put batting
thin as cotton fresh from southern fields
and choose templates with a delicate design.
Help me stretch material tightly in frames,
take the needle down and up, filling in
the feathered pattern, savoring your art.
seeing god on the interstate
two hours of driving
have warmed the air inside the car,
excited the apple’s aroma
from the seat beside me.
high in preston county, west virginia
the sun breaks
from the storm clouds
and floods the hills
the cut farms
the swollen spring rivers
with that incomprehensibly beautiful
and i am stunned again,
as i am
each morning’s drive
or evening’s walk,
with how blessed,
with what we have been given.
(Copyright © 2008)
Feet slap time on the old slab floor,
Moon glow slips through the puncheon door,
Fiddle bows dance in the orange firelight -
C'mon boys, they's music tonight!
Thumbs double-down on the high fifth string,
Fingers frail and the banjos ring,
Quart jars pass from hand to hand -
C'mon boys, it’s a hot-time band!
Mouth set up in a crooked grin
As the notes fly out of the mandolin,
Ears wide open and eyes shut tight -
C'mon boys, they's music tonight!
Wrist bent hard 'round the guitar neck,
Pick blurs quick in a fancy lick,
Sound box sends out a holy shout -
C'mon boys, they're a'bustin out!
Marthy Campbell and Cumberland Gap,
Swingin' On A Gate and Fox Tail Trap,
Old Plank Road and The Girl I Left Behind,
Get Home Cindy and Evangeline
Shoulders sway to the bass thump's boom
As the dancers whirl around the room,
Toes tap rhythm in pure delight -
C'mon boys, they's music tonight!
(Copyright © 2000)
there is one red apple in the tree.
it is the shade of the feeder on the porch,
the sweatshirt you're wearing.
hummingbirds helicopter out of the forsythia,
rise and hover in front of the fruit,
sway and dart,
dip and chase,
move to the feeder,
to you on the swing.
gnats float on the moist current,
move up and down
in rhythm with our blood,
the pulse in our fingers
passes through the skin
as the gnats pass each other,
bobbing in the blue morning
over the verdant fencerow
where last night the air hung white
above the dodder's pale lace,
waiting for the sky to lose the light
and darken to the color of earth and us.
glowworms glittered green,
winked thin laugh lines
under the peavine and ivy,
under the porch steps,
under our eyes.
now, fragrance from some yellow-leafed limb
vibrates a crack in time,
hums memory in my glistening vision,
recalls the smell of split wood,
orange oak flesh from a past visit
when i needed warmth
and took the tree's gift twice,
once in the cutting,
again in the stove.
you push poems from the page,
lush lines temper our senses
the way the wood healed the silver chill.
we cast word spells on each other
throw them around this singing space,
you by reading, me by listening,
both by knowing the poetry
of this moment in our breath,
in the scent of our skin,
in the spark of our eyes.
the swing pulls the earth
around the sun.
the porch frames the circle
of the wheeling sky.
the fence holds the seed
of every wet, green
the rain shines substance
into the timid wind.
the tree offers the apple
to the sparkling day.
i look at you.
birds laugh their songs,
and god is a river of color
in the shimmering air.
("a river of color" was first published in The Dickensonian, Summer 2000 Copyright © 1998)
I Hate It!
Hate is the worm in the Tequila bottle,
A curiosity, a topic of conversation
Until it comes alive
And bites you in the throat,
Burrowing its way through your esophagus,
Taking up residence in your gut
Until it demands your entire attention
And you are no longer interested
In oatmeal or pizza,
Late night movies
Or pushing the kids on the backyard swing,
Instead trying every form
Of the hell with it and damn you.
It’s behind every verbal push
And in front of every gravitational pull
And it never stops,
It has eaten away the lining of your stomach
And distorted the colors of your dreams
And you read your husband’s birthday card
As unadulterated sarcasm
And know without a shadow of doubt
That your neighbor’s baby
Isn’t really his and
Your priest is a pasty-faced child molester.
Hate is a euphonious nickname
For the destruction of the universe.
Him call me stupid? Honey, I’ll tell you what!
That woman he’s running around with is so dumb
She’d stick her hand down a groundhog hole.
Why, that hussie would shoot off her nose
Just trying to commit suicide
I tell you, she’s into the highwire business
Messing with my man.
That woman’s nothing but a ragged-assed hillbilly
Who’s so bad-off she rides a warp-sided mule.
Hey, she spends half of her life in front of a mirror,
And it’s only the homely as has to do that.
That woman’s so ugly she’d have to climb to make plain.
You want to know idiot? My John has caught it
Just like he brung home the measles
And all four kids come down with the rash.
Still don’t know which woman give it to him.
He’s went through women like he’s went through churches.
This bimbo can’t even remember my name.
Now, that’s ignorant.
I’m telling you, Nell,
If he don’t give up that catchall of a ragbag,
I’ll bring in the Misery Mafia.
I’ll do him so bad he won’t know to catalog
All the wrongs that I’ll commit unto him.
I’ll do him so bad he won’t know his whereabouts.
Hell, I’ll send that man packing on the next empty bus,
And that ain’t all. By the time that I’m finished,
He’ll feel downright lucky to be drawing his breath.
Him call me stupid?
Well, I’ll tell you what--
Stupid’s a thing what is relative.
If this pianist were to play Ravel for seven joyous hours,
And one in Santiago played for seven more,
And one soon after in Rangoon or maybe Bangkok,
And someone else in Istanbul,
And a sculptor sculpted stone for seven perfect days
And another carved in London for a week or perhaps more,
To be followed by a poet casting lines and pages
And a playwright writing,
And a ballerina holding pose,
With perhaps these all augmented
By Monet and by your act of love,
Could we not change the auras all around the world?
From that despoiled Arcadia
Demeter fled, of course, and darling Persephone
and Dionysus, also, Aphrodite and her pretty son
and the attendant demigods—the dryads and the nymphs—
who had lent their charm to groves and streams
rushed, in a glorious rout skyward toward Helios
and the slow ones followed
the thick-necked, brute-heroic, contrite Heracles
and lame Hephaestus, bronzed by the forge and callused—
even they, the great laborers, were disdainful as they lumbered away.
Ares lingered a moment
on what he assumed was a bloody mountain
the thick gore he could wade through and fling to the sky
but quickly enough, choking on the sulfurous stench
he vaingloriously departed.
Ovid has said as much, also:
how Faunus languished in his exile far to the west
how Flora to the north, banished there
without bright poppies for her wanton hair, wept in April
though Pluto remained
not the dear divinity of the grain and the wealth it brings
but the deep-delving god, Dis of the mineral earth
of blackness and death
and he, in a metamorphosis of which such deities are capable
became, as the locals aptly express themselves
it’s the dozers up there
it’s the coal trucks
it’s the dragline machine.
("Ovid in the Coal Fields" appeared first in Azrael on the Mountain, Victor Depta's book of poems protesting mountaintop removal coal mining.)
Sometimes What Happens in a Distant City
He was dead two days after Christmas.
A gunshot to the head. Suicide.
You had no warning, but he knew long before.
He was never abandoned, only cornered.
You flew to a closed-casket memorial
on the West Coast, making passionate deals
with the unfaithful wife for his last journey home.
Being kind. Forgiving her. Hating her.
Caught up in the numbing business of death,
you flew back, staring through clouds and magazines;
his broken body submarined amid dark suitcases.
The second funeral was back home
with family: parents, sisters, kin.
They said their painful good-byes quickly,
for to see him again came with a price:
he could not stay.
In a sense, they suffered two deaths:
his coming and his going.
And so it ended, as if he never were.
His promised remains flown back
to the one who left him.
And you, his best friend like a brother,
left your loss
somewhere in the turbulence.
Sometimes what happens in a distant city
is never your fault.
("Sometimes What Happens in a Distant City" was first published in Laura Bentley's poetry collection, Lake Effect).
I’m pumping gas at 7th & 9th.
It’s a real gas station
with rubber ropes that ding
when you run over them
and RC cola in glass bottles.
The sun is out, and I lean
against the rear bumper,
watching the numbers
spin to $10.00 even.
When I walk in,
a respectful silence falls
over the station regulars.
I tell the man behind the counter
how much I owe.
He believes me
and takes my crisp, ten dollar bill
in a blackened palm.
His passive blue eyes seem bluer
against a miner’s face,
dark from rotating tires
and checking brake fluid.
He chings one key on an old cash register
and the drawer opens.
My money is placed under a metal spring.
His fingernails are seamy,
and the air smells like cigarettes
put out in cold coffee,
and Teaberry gum.
I turn to leave and talk resumes
in starts and stops
about sputtering manifolds
and gaskets blown.
A car burning clouds of oil
pulls in behind me.
The men study the newcomer
like tobacco-chewing surgeons
behind plate glass.
Their minds spinning
("Gas Station" was first published in Pudding Magazine).
I walked the busy train tracks to The Olympic Pool,
my bathing suit jelly-rolled inside a towel.
Balancing on sleek rails,
white gold in the summer sun,
heatwaves crimping the air,
I dreamt of jumping off the highest dive
into the deep.
I could have walked through the park
past the deus ex machina,
peering down from a narrow look-out
in his curious armored tank
that spun rumbling black brushes the size of stop signs
and spewed water jets against the rich Southside curbs.
But it was two miles that way,
and summer was too short.
When I arrived with my worn “pass” in hand,
I pushed through a silver turnstile
and became a ten-year-old homesteader,
choosing my towel-wide claim under the sun
complete with a Coppertone breeze.
The pool was painted eyeshadow blue.
Under its bright waters,
I swam with my eyes open,
until my body was steeped in chlorine:
pale lips trembling, eyes squinting pinkeye,
hands and feet marbled with wrinkles.
And if it rained a thunderless rain, I stayed in,
the pool warm as bath water
under the icy raindrops.
I watched as they shattered
all the blueness.
When a C&O train passed behind the pool
on an embankment studded with crucifix crossarms,
I waved to the engineer in his red bandanna,
and he waved back
from his watchtower window.
Counting the endless boxcars that followed,
I bobbed up and down
in the shallow end
with each whispered number . . . 68, 69,
until the train became static,
never thinking about my shortcut home
or ever needing to be saved by some superman
from the thunder rolling in the distance.
("Superman" was first published in Riverwind).
What It Took to Write This Poem
There is no safety net in Morgantown, West Virginia.
On my street, each house with its shield of magnolias
and dogwood. We move through our doors and then
Last night I searched the Internet, trying to find the
statistics of Guantanamo Bay. It’s easy to dry your eyes
without looking, to live a little further, to click a mouse
In the instant before sleep,
I have no thought of any feeling. Mere history rises
to the surface. All layers settling. All rivers running into
The white light they’ve always talked about
really does exist
because I’ve seen it
although it wasn’t really white or
any other color either.
It was my blood moving fiercely through my veins,
my heart lurching forward into a largeness not imagined.
The child must have seen it, too,
because she never screamed
or took from me
and, in that instant
joined by solitude,
the car became a living thing,
rising falling pressing in,
a birth that held us spellbound.
Since then, I’ve sung to you.
I’ve straightened sheets and tucked you in
and kissed the center of your forehead.
It isn’t mourning when I watch you sleep
and linger linger linger.
The Niagara hurls over the edge
of itself, pounds against the rocks
with such force it rises again as if,
having second thoughts, it returns
to haunt what it’s just left.
We lean against the railing, and I
try to imagine myself into our marriage.
I think you’re worrying, too: Is
my posture regal, my will steely enough?
But your look is dark, your face closed.
I’ve made the choice; I’m far from home.
The noise and press of siblings, secretive,
unknown. My mother looking away.
The close and faded walls where dreams
ran out like a can of bright paint.
Are motel rooms for counting money,
calculating what’s left after the wedding?
Perhaps a bed is not a portal to the future.
Rhythms change under pressure; night
passes; the too solid flesh refuses to melt.
When I wake, you are not there.
Outside, the New York highway rolls immense.
I make my way to the island in the center.
Phone in hand, I reach for the state police.
A voice replies, No, no accidents reported.
Although I wait for more, no more is said.
You’re on your own; you’re on your own.
If my family knew, what would they think?
A white peignoir draped from a hook seems foolish now.
(“Far from home she stood in tears amid the alien…”)
That night you return, saying nothing.
But next morning: One egg is enough for anyone.
Then you turn quiet. We walk through flowers hot and vivid
in the late morning. Mist rises in the distance.
I picture the rocks, cool and oblivious under monstrous
water, and wonder why twenty feels so old.
what are you truly made of?
Queen Anne’s Lace grows taller than your head
and spiders move like dragons up their stalks.
One of your hands holds a lollipop, red and flat,
and to the other stick the torn wings of a black butterfly.
Your father’s hands clap like thunder in your ears,
and your mother’s mouth opens to a fiery furnace.
When you run too long, your hair hangs like wet socks
against your neck. Your brother is always knocking you down.
Sometimes to become invisible you close your eyes.
At night with the heat hanging in the air like blankets,
one sister turns to bread dough and the other sits down,
asleep, and slides under the lake of your dreams.
Little girl, little girl,
your head has cracked like porcelain
from the weight of all it knows.
August has crept in with its yellow eyes,
its panting tongue. Tomatoes afire on vines;
the red burst of impatiens from pots.
One by one the days flame out—oh, rooms of burning!
How we strive for release and yet are consumed.
The rain lies deeply buried.
These moments held as if in cellophane
while the hectic beauty of the world peers in.
Now evening comes, quiet as bath water,
White shapes loom; the vivid are hushed by shadows.
Sometimes a sadness, deep as wisdom.
Somewhere in silence a question keeps asking itself.
Seen through this floating maple,
stars flare, die, flare once more.
Branches rustle and bend,
the ground around me shifting;
patterns, intensities, remake themselves.
Soon the first geese will cry their leaving.
Into the vaulted dark
need leaps up,
the infinite reaches, vast and cold.
To want and want—
Where to turn?
Ah, there! And there!
What faces glimpsed,
what sparks of joy.
In the Native tradition one wears their hair loose
to honor Creator, and up for Mother Earth.
This is for my Grandmother
who even when she did not know
my name or hers
still platted thin white hair,
coiled it round her head,
inserted one slim hairpin
and two clear combs.
Now, I realize I was only one of
thirty some grandchildren,
and it had been years
since she’d heard her given name.
No soft mummer in the night;
No sisters or friends stopping by,
or brothers at the door;
No parents on the porch
or in the kitchen, to call
her in from the day.
She was Mother, Grandma, Mrs,
and went for days and sometimes weeks
with no human voice except her own.
Still, no matter how or when the earth
turned round to face the sun or moon,
she prided her hair, brushed down to the waist
at night, then close to the head in morning.
And so the honoring continues,
though thick and mostly dark
I braid my hair and listen
for her old familiar voice
to call my name.
Fall is closing.
I spend the morning peeling the apples
bought in Buckeye, West Virginia,
on the day you would have been eighty-seven.
I peel, core and slice,
boil them down to applesauce,
then on into smooth auburn butter.
Scald and fill the jars, load the canner,
listen to the water bubble and and the timer tick,
cool, count and store the harvest
to be delivered up on biscuit warm evenings.
Your marker was set last Friday.
My fingers lingered long over every letter.
I pushed my palm into the “R”
trying hard to tattoo
what was already there.
I stay, too long in the hardware store
Where everyone keeps trying to help me.
How can I say that all I need
is the smell of nails, oiled wood floors,
fertilizer and cracked corn;
To touch the moon curved cycles,
the ball peen hammers,
barbed wire and the familiar shaped anvil.
To inhale the essence which lingered nightly
in your thin gray work clothes.
“Just visiting” I say.
And like stealing you back from the universe,
I slip one three-penny nail into my pocket,
where it weeps and screams
and sleeps with me.
Someone is calling your name
and it ain’t no lazy slippery elm voice
It’s that deep warm chocolate - crushed nuts voice,
the one which makes the roosters crow
and calls in bullfrog river songs.
It’s the voice that slings slop across the old pen fence
then bellies up a pork chop meal.
Someone is calling your name.
It wakes you in the empty night
to rick a hundred memories inside your head,
to pull the vowels and pound the double consonances,
It stirs you into morning gravy on the stove.
Listen close, listen long, listen loud
Someone is calling your name.
Sunrise, Bluefield, West Virginia by Kevin Scanlon