For a video of the installation ceremony, please go to


How a Poem Happens:

Go to, managed with finesse by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, who says, "Our intent is to make visitors to Your Daily Poem aware of the joy and diversity of poetry."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The Work of Winter (from

By Kathryn Stripling Byer

This time of year poet Adrienne Rich’s words bubble up into my

consciousness: “The work of winter starts fermenting in my head / how with

the hands of a lover or a midwife / to hold back till the time is right.” She

urges to “trust roots” and “learn what an underground journey / has been,

might have to be; speak in a winter code / let fog, sleet, translate; wind, carry


This time of year my imagination wants to trust roots. To go underground

where so much of our inner journey takes place. In other words, it wants

time to think about the origins of memory and language. It’s a time when I

pull out my Oxford English Dictionary, hold up the magnifying glass and

look up the sources of words I use everyday. Where did they come from?

How have they changed? Inevitably, this always leads me back to the

question, “How have I changed?”

Because I recently turned sixty-five, a truth that women of a certain age are

not supposed to own up to, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “old.” I

don’t feel old, I just feel as if I’ve been around for a long time, learned a lot

(though not enough) and that I’m in my prime.

When I turned to the origins of the word “old,” I found that it’s a very old

word indeed, and that its root many centuries ago meant “to nourish.”

Tracking it into Old English, I discovered that it becomes “oeld,” meaning

mature and lasting, something to be valued. The word appears numerous

times in medieval writings, and nearly always in a positive context.

Knowing this, I now no longer mind thinking of myself being described as


When we begin to think about how our language began, we are drawn back

to a speech that sounded earthy, no trace of Latin in it. A language of

survivors in a cold, rough landscape. Over the years that language changed

by absorbing words from all over the planet, but mostly words from French

and Latin. Just about any word one picks out of a dictionary contains a piece

of that history. The renowned English poet W. H. Auden once said that

every one of his poems is a hymn of praise to the English language. A poet

in any language feels the same way about what we call the mother tongue.

Our mother tongue nourishes us. Just as the word “eald” meant centuries


Each morning my husband reads a page from his “Calendar of Forgotten

English,” a ritual that began 5 years ago when I gave him the 2000 calendar

for Christmas. These calendars collect words no longer in use, or not often,

and they lie on our table, waiting to be read while my husband drinks his

coffee. Words like “flaws” (gust of wind) and “blague” (humbug). Old

words. And, finally, not forgotten. Here they lie beside the cereal box, the

jam and butter, another morning’s invitation to look back and realize what

the word “old” really means. Still here. Ready for another year. Pick a word.

Any word. And it will carry you back to the roots of our language, and

forward into a present made even richer for knowing how the past spoke


Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I wrote this column for my
Language Matters series during the winter of 2006. it seems as resonant now as it did then. I wish all my blog visitors a warm, safe, and restorative holiday.

Words Shining in the Night

By Kathryn Stripling Byer

Nothing brings our language into brighter focus than religious holidays. As we gather to
hear the words of this holiday season, we have lately become more aware of how those
words can both bind us together and push us apart. Just last Christmas, there was an
uproar over greeters at various stores using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas,
as if the former somehow diminished the latter. Yet, many Americans do not celebrate a
traditional Christmas and many others do not celebrate it at all. Some, like certain Native
American tribes, never have, welcoming the solstice instead with their age-old earth-
based rituals.

So, what to do in our increasingly pluralistic society, where Latino, Arabic, Jewish, African, and
Asian voices are joining the chorus of celebrations? Can we agree at least on the meaning of this yearly
turning, that it pulls us back into the light, if we let it? And that the light can bring us
together, if we let it?

Perhaps learning some new words for light would be a good place to start. Tara, for
example. We English speakers think of Ireland and Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation. But the
word is also Urdu/Hindi for star, descended from the Sanskrit for “shining.” And this
time of year the star shining in the night carries special significance. In Spanish it is the
beautiful word estrella, and in French, etoile. The German star rings in the season as
stern, whose light cuts through the darkness and leads the way to revelation. In Arabic,
the haunting word shihab means flame. How can we deny this light shining in the
darkness, regardless of which word a culture uses to say it? We all light our candles this
time of year and watch the flames dance in the night.

I like the word shihab because it is the given name of a poet I admire, Naomi Shihab
Nye, American-born daughter of a Palestinian journalist and an American Montessori
teacher. For years she has worked to bridge cultural and religious differences, to heal the
divide that keeps us from being able to communicate with one another. Her voice shines
like a candle flame in this season’s dark night of suffering and war.

Her poem “Red Brocade,” begins: "The Arabs used to say,/When a stranger appears at
your door,/feed him for three days/before asking who he is,/where he’s come from,
/where he’s headed./That way he’ll have strength/enough to answer./Or, by then you’ll be
/such good friends/you don’t care. "

"Let’s go back to that," she pleads in the line that follows. No matter the language used, this
time of year we call out to light, not only to the flame of the sun returning to our
hemisphere, but also to the light of understanding. This season challenges us to believe
that our words for that light matter. Call it luz, lumiere, shihab, tara, it means the same
thing: the realization that we are called by the light to live together in peace.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


It's holiday book-buying time, so here are some additional suggestions for gifts. For more ideas, go to the side bar and take a look at the Books of the Week, as well as Poets of the Week. You'll find plenty to entice a reader there.

In part one of our garland, I've gathered three current books NC or former NC writers.

Here's a new book of stories by a long-time friend of mine, poet and Editor of Shenandoah, R.T Smith. I met Rod many years ago at the Critz Writers Workshop, where A. R. Ammons held forth to a motley crew of us aspiring writers in Virginia. Rod has published numerous books of poetry and has edited Shenandoah right up into the top ranks of the country's literary magazines.

This new collection, as Ann Pancake says, "is part bluegrass symphony, part speaking in tongues... it is the most beautifully sung story collection I have read in years."

George Singleton calls some of the characters "wonderfully warped, melodic, Appalachian" and others "flat-out idiomatic poetic," which ought to whet any one's appetite.

On the menu (consider them appetizers):
Cockers for Christ
Tastes Like Chicken
Fig Honey
Red Jar

Sound good? You can go to to order the boo


John Amen's new book, At the Threshold of Alchemy, holds the same intensity and surprising turns of language and perspective that have marked his earlier work. I find his poetry energizing, instructive, exhilarating, and for those long dark nights that follow Christmas, it would be ideal for keeping one's imagination pulsing. John will be coming to WCU in the spring to take part in our WCU Spring Literary Festival, so I will be posting more about him in March.

"Poems such as these, and there are plenty in this book—John Amen’s third—keep resounding in the mind the way great poetry does...."
—Ricardo Nirenberg, Offcourse Literary Journal

John is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget). He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. Further information is available on his website: http:///. Contact:


Linda Annas Ferguson now lives in Charleston, SC, but she is a native North Carolinian. Her latest book, Dirt Sandwich, is just out from Press 53 in Winston-Salem.

Linda is the author of five collections of poetry, including Bird Missing from One Shoulder (WordTech Editions, 2007); Stepping on Cracks in the Sidewalk (Finishing Line Press, 2006); Last Chance to Be Lost (Kentucky Writers’ Coalition, 2004); and It’s Hard to Hate a Broken Thing (Palanquin Press, University of S.C. Aiken, 2002). She was the 2005 Poetry Fellow for the South Carolina Arts Commission and served as the 2003-04 Poet-in-Residence for the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C. A recipient of the Poetry Fellowship of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, she is a member of the Academy’s Board of Governors. She was a featured poet for the Library of Congress Poetry at Noon Series. Her work is archived by Furman University Special Collections in the James B. Duke Library. A North Carolina native, she now resides in Charleston, SC. Visit her website at

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Glenda Council Beall's new chapbook, Now Might As Well Be Then, from Finishing Line Press ( deserves many readers. I was honored to write a blurb for it. Glenda has worked wonders for NETWEST as Program Director and deserves our thanks for supporting the literary arts in Western North Carolina. Her new book would make a wonderful Christmas gift for family members. Several in my family will have this chapbook in their stockings!

Often those "supporters" are so busy making sure other writers find what they need to become better at the writer's craft that they don't have time for their own work. That's why I'm so pleased to honor Glenda as Poet of the Week. She's a great SW Georgia girl, and, naturally, I believe those girls have a leg up when it comes to writing poetry!

Here are a few of my favorite poems from her new chapbook.

Woman in the Mirror

What happened to seventeen,
when I rode my mare
free as the river flows,
jumped over downed trees
splashed through narrow streams?

What happened to twenty
when I danced in the moonlight,
my slender form dressed in a gown
white and shimmery as pearl?

What happened to thirty
when I rode my Yamaha
down fire roads, mountain trails,
long black hair flying free?

What happened to those days
I ask the woman in the mirror.
Gone, she says, all gone, unless
you remember it.

In The Dark

Lying in bed, my cheek against your shoulder,
I remember a night, long ago, on your boat.
I was afraid. I felt too much, too fast.
But love crept over us that summer
like silver fog, silent on the lake.
We were never again the same.

We stepped like children through that door that led
to long passages unknown, holding hands, wide-eyed, but brave.
Here I am years later, listening to your soft breath
and feeling your warm smooth skin.
In the dark, now might as well be then.

My Father's Horse

Stickers tear my legs, bare and tan
from South Georgia sun. Long black braids
fly behind me as I sprint like a Derby winner
down the path.

Harnessed with hames, bridle
and blinders, Charlie plods down
the farm road. Tired and wet from sweat,
he is perfume to my nostrils.

My father swings me up. I bury
my hands in tangled mane. My thighs
stick to leather and damp white hair
high above the ground.

I want to sing in glorious joy,
but only croon a child's nonsensical
words, grinning for a hundred yards
between field and barn.

My father's arms are strong.
His hands are gentle. The horse
is all we ever share. For he has sons
and I am just a daughter.

A Long Lost Year
Music making was his talent
taken for granted like water
gushing from our well until
the surgeon’s knife nicked a nerve.

The purple wreath of grief hung
over us until one day above the strum
of his guitar, his notes rang true ―
a lovely instrument restored.

We wept with joy.
His voice is who he is,
always been.

He sings to me again, that same
rich baritone that won me on that first
day we met. I listen with a new ear,
and like a Sinatra fan,
I mellow out.


This weekend offers two reading/signing events in the WNC area. Cecilia Woloch and Kathryn S. Byer will be featured in both. On Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m. at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva,Woloch and Byer will join Mary Adams as she launches her new chapbook Commandment, hot off the press from Spring Street Editions. Mary is a member of the WCU English Faculty; she has been awarded an NEA fellowship and saw her first collection, Epistles from the Planet Photosynthesis, published by the University of Florida Press.

On Sunday, December 6, 2009, Malaprop's Bookstore/Café (55 Haywood
Street in downtown Asheville, NC) will host poets Kathryn Stripling
Byer reading from ARETHA'S HAT: INAUGURATION DAY, 2009; Julia Nunnally
Duncan with AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY and new, unpublished poems; and
Cecilia Woloch, author of CARPATHIA.

Kathryn Stripling Byer, poet laureate of North Carolina from 2005
through June 30, 2009, was born in Southwest Georgia but moved to North
Carolina in 1968 and has lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains ever since.
She is the author of five poetry books, including COMING TO REST
(2006), and most recently (in collaboration with Penelope Scambly
Schott) of the chapbook ARETHA'S HAT: INAUGURATION DAY, 2009. Writing
on the topic "Why We Love North Carolina" for the February 2009 issue
of Our State magazine, Kathryn Stripling Byer noted these particular
highlights of her term as Poet Laureate: the "generous community of
[North Carolina] writers . . . who continue to amaze me with their
talent and energy" and most of all, "the students I've met in our
schools . . . these young faces looking back at me, ready to say who
they are. May we all listen well to them." As poet laureate, Kathryn
Stripling Byer's primary goal was to "help make poetry accessible in as
many ways as I could," through frequent visits to schools and with
writing groups; appearances at bookstores, literary events, and a
variety of public celebrations; a regularly updated poetry page on the
North Carolina Arts Council web site; and her own generous laureate
blog -- as well as by continuing to write and give public readings of her
own poetry. In the process, she has demonstrated the perseverance and
constant delicate balance of energies required to lead a very public
life as a dedicated writer. Asked why she writes poetry, she recently
replied, "It's the best way I know to sing with the world" (Writer's
Digest interview with Robert Lee Brewer, July 2009). We are very happy
to welcome Kathryn Stripling Byer back to "sing" her poetry at Malaprop's.

Julia Nunnally Duncan writes both poetry and fiction. She has
previously published two collections of stories and a novel, and her
second novel, WHEN DAY IS DONE, is just out from March Street Press.
Her Appalachian poems have appeared in scores of literary journals,
and her first published collection of poetry, AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY
(2007), was named a finalist for the 2008 Roanoke-Chowan Award for
Poetry. She recently completed the manuscript for a second collection
of poems, AT DUSK. Rob Neufeld, book columnist for The Asheville
Citizen-Times, wrote of Julia Nunnally Duncan that she is one of four
Western North Carolina "poets to watch." He remarked that her poems
"make the greatest possible use of line breaks, so that individual
phrases glow like haiku observations. Metaphors develop naturally and
emotionally." In a recent article in North Carolina Literary Review,
Jeffrey Franklin observed of AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY, "Duncan always makes
the place solid, the people real, the situation, in all its emotional
complexity and perilousness, rendered with a deceptive simplicity that
quietly resonates. . . .[Her] people are as recognizably human as any
in Shakespeare[.]" Like our other readers for December 6, Julia
Nunnally Duncan is at once a dedicated writer and an experienced
teacher; she has served as a full-time English instructor at McDowell
Community College for nearly two and a half decades. At Malaprop's,
she will read selections from AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY and from her
manuscript, AT DUSK.

CARPATHIA is Cecilia Woloch's fifth poetry collection. Published in
2009, it went into a second printing about two months after its
official publication date. Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer Prize-winning
poet, has written of CARPATHIA, "The poems . . . are guided by an
exquisite lyricism and heartbreaking emotional honesty. . . . This is
a gorgeous book by a poet who is passionately alive in the world."
Cecilia Woloch has traveled widely and taught just as widely, offering
poetry workshops for children and adults across the United States and
in several locations abroad. She serves as a lecturer in creative
writing at the University of Southern California and is founding
director of the Paris Poetry Workshop. The recipient of numerous
awards for her writing, teaching and theatre work, in 2009 alone,
Cecilia Woloch has been recognized as a finalist in the California
Book Awards of The Commonwealth Club of California for her 2008
chapbook, NARCISSUS; as a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize in
Poetry at Nimrod; as the first prize winner of the New Ohio Review
Prize in Poetry; and as a Fellow at the Center for International
Theatre Development/US Artists Initiative in Poland.

Please join us in welcoming three distinguished poets on December 6,
and begin your holiday season with poetry!

Poetrio: Kathryn Stripling Byer, Julia Nunnally Duncan, Celia Woloch
Sunday, December 6, 2009, 3:00 p.m.
Malaprop's Bookstore/Café
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 254-6734

Saturday, November 28, 2009


( ) catches the eye right away. Sean Ross's Mask Dancers peer out from the page, as if ready to leap. Ross's paintings invigorate the interior pages where poems, stories, and essays, some translated from the Cherokee language, await the reader, reminding us that the Cherokee people still live in these mountains, painting, writing, telling stories, and passing down their culture as they have always done.

Novelist and poet Robert Conley, now at nearby Western Carolina University as the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies, is the issue's featured author. Years ago I invited Mr. Conley, living at that time in Oklahoma, to be a part of the Visiting Writers Series that I then directed. Everyone liked him so much that we invited him back several times. Now he lives here!

The issue contains a poem by a former student of mine, Debora Kinsland Foerst, the amusing "Settin' Up."

Debora has had her poetry and prose published in The Raleigh News-Observer, Writers and Books on, Kakalak, and numerous other publications and anthologies.

And there's Mary Brown's recipe for apple stack cake! Preceded by her poem in both Cherokee and English.

MariJo Moore's poem closes out the issue.

MariJo ( presents Spirit Speaking Gatherings & Intuitive Consultations and resides in the mountains of western NC, where she is currently working on The Boy With A Tree Growing From His Ear & Other Stories.

Traditional Mysteries Remain Still
(Inspired by the painting “The Booger Dance Interrupted” by Sean J. Ross)

MariJo Moore © 2009

Rattle of old gourd seeds
keeping mysteries intact.
Red bandannas atop white sheets
floating in musical silence, impending beats of drum.

Masked dancers moving
among the senses of imitation,
feigning attacks,
pressing desires, causing women’s laughter.

Old ones draining shadows, gaining
strength from the young.
Young ones gathering wisdom, taking
experience from the old.

Interruption! Masked as righteousness
nevertheless, interruption
cracks in the gourd rattles.

Seeds dispersing
falling onto dismembered grounds.
Going not to water,
germinating into silenced, soiled pauses.

Imitation no longer masked:
Cherokee see, Cherokee do, Cherokee “saved.”
Becoming simply stirrups
loosely attached to the saddles of plenty-costing religion.

But here, painted somewhere
in the darkest dawn of remembrance,
traditions continue and gourds mend.

Rattling of hidden seeds keep mysteries intact.
Colors imitating dance imitating
olden life.
Dance, Boogers, dance!

Note: The Booger Dance of the Eastern Cherokee is interpretive of the reactions to the greed of various invaders. By wearing masks that resemble the invaders, the dancers imitate their actions to lessen the seriousness of the intrusions. Once thought gone due to the Christian religion, the Booger Dance is now being reinstated.

A fine Christmas surprise for family and friends would be a gift subscription to Appalachian Heritage.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Discovering a new poet whose work I really enjoy is like finding the perfect Christmas gift under the tree, something I've been thinking about lately, as the holiday season approaches. Terri Kirby Erickson is such a poet, and her new book of poems would make the perfect for gift for readers on your Christmas gift list. That Terri is a native North Carolinian and published by a Winston-Salem publisher, Press 53, only makes discovering her "more perfect." (Poetic license, there!)

Terri is an award winning poet. Her first poetry collection, Thread Count, was published in 2006. Telling Tales of Dusk was published in 2009 by Press 53. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, literary journals and anthologies, including A Prairie Journal, Blue Fifth Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Dead Mule, JAMA, Muse India, Oak Bend Review, Nibble, Paris Voice, Pisgah Review, Relief, Thieves Jargon, Toasted Cheese, Smoking Poet, Wild Goose Poetry Review and many others. In 2009, she was nominated for a Best of the Net Award and a Pushcart Prize. She has lectured at both the high school and university level, and has conducted numerous poetry workshops. Terri lives in Lewisville, NC . She has a beautiful website and welcomes her readers to visit:

Terri's first book, Thread Count, was published AuthorHouse in 2006

Excerpts from Telling Tales of Dusk( 8.5 x 5.5 paperback, $12.00,

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s lace dandies up
a ditch, like embroidered hankies
in a farmer’s pocket.

Such tiny seed-pearl petals
seem hand-sewn by
seraphim to their purple

centers—yet they thrive
in common places, fine as tatted
borders, blanket-stitched to burlap.

Papa Never Learned to Read

Granny sat under a shade tree,
fanning herself with corn shucks,

while Papa stood waist-deep in

the river, baptizing. Folks rose up,
sputtering, and waded back to shore—

their sodden dresses and pant legs

heavy against their skin, their souls
light as Easter lilies. “I see no need

for such as that,” Granny said, to

anyone who asked. Still, she read
Papa scripture—the words warmed

by her breath and scattered into his

brain like dandelion seeds—where
once a week, they grew into a sermon.

Washing My Baby’s Hair over the Kitchen Sink

There is the weight of her small, solid head in my hand
and the feel of warm water, sluicing through her hair.
Eyes the soft blue-gray of herons’ wings,
follow my new-mother face, glowing.
Enthralled with each other, we
coo like doves in the milk-
scented air that my baby
breathes out and I

County Fair

Pulled like rotten teeth from the open mouths
of mineshafts, massive pyramids of gleaming
coal dot the landscape of Kanawha County.
Coal dust fine and black as pulverized midnight,
covers everything for miles. Rows of ramshackle
houses kneel by the river like washer women
with their knees in river muck, and jagged
mountains cut the slate-gray sky

to ribbons. But the Kanawha River is long
and winding, and leads to a lone Ferris wheel
rising up from the bottomland, jaunty
as an Easter bonnet. Its rainbow-colored gondolas
call to mind a different tune than the dismal dirges
of Black Lung and White Damp. They carry the sound
of children’s laughter through the ground
and into the mines, like light.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair

(High School winners in the Great Smoky Mountains Bookfair Poetry contest: Mandi Dean, Edward Madill, and Nicole Bowers. Photo by Jackie Methven, Smoky Mountain High School, Sylva)

(The teacher on the left is Jennifer Nation, 6th grade teacher from Macon Middle School. The teacher on the right is Angela Pickens, 2nd grade teacher from Cartoogechaye Elementary School. In between are Allan Wolf, Newt Smith, and K. Byer in the rear, and up front are Caitlin, Celeste, and Brooke.)
As part of this year's Biannual Great Smoky Mountains Bookfair, we invited students from Haywood, Macon, Swain, and Jackson to send us poems for our first Bookfair Poetry Contest. Our categories were grades 1-5, 6-8, and high school. We didn't know what to expect. Would we get any poems? What would they be like? What would they be about?

We needn't have worried about the poems. Or the poets. They sent us their poems, our judges Newt Smith and Mary Adams agonized over the rankings, and behold, here are the winners! I know there are other poems in the submissions worthy of attention and enjoyment, though, and I hope to be able to post them in the coming days. We want to thank all the teachers who encouraged their classes to write poems for us, and we send a special thanks to the parents who are raising their children to love language and poetry. I'd also like to thank Newt Smith for his hard work in administering and publicizing the contest.

We announced the winners at our Poetry Alive session with Allan Wolf on Saturday afternoon. It was a blast, a rip, a jazzed-up experience with Allan's high energy presentation. The student poets were not intimidated, though. They all stepped right up and read their poems, not a quaver to be detected in their voices. As Laureate, I introduced each one, beginning with the 1-5 grade group.

Here' is Celeste McCall's winning poem, a praise song for her friend, who loves rice and Chicken (so do I!). Even better, she makes the birds sing when she's around. We all need a friend like this.

Aaliya My Friend

Your eyes are sparkly brown.
Your favorite food is rice and chicken.
Your favorite sport is gymnastics.
Your favorite vegetable is carrots.
Your favorite fruit is apples.

Aaliya, you make birds sing when you are around.
You make everything right.
You make me laugh.

Aaliya, I love you.

By Celeste McCall
Grade 2, Cartoogechaye Elementary School
Parents: J.J. and Leah McCall

(Celeste reads her poem.)

Monika Palestino took as her subject the rose, that much loved subject. I especially admire how she says, "I/want you to/grow until you/get ready to go." Such a lovely poem. And by a 3rd grader. Was I writing poems like this when I was that age? No indeed.


You bloom. You’re
red. You’re pretty
and beautiful
and sometimes
big and wide.

People pick you,
but I don’t. I
want you to
grow until you
get ready to go.

I take the
petals off
the stem. I
put you in
my Bible to
remember you

Monika Palestino
Grade 3, Blue Ridge School
Parents: Vickie and Zeirele Palestino

Second Prize, Grades 1-5

(Monika and Ashley pose for photographs.)

Ashley Foster's Sunshine makes me wake up and see sunshine as if for the first time. That light follows her everywhere, yes, it does, and I love her celebration of this everyday miracle.

Sunshine Everywhere

I love the sun.
You’re with me.

I go,
I just love
morning light.

Ashley Foster
Grade 3, Blue Ridge School
Parents: Stuart Foster and Cindy Stiwinter

Honorable Mention, Grades 1-5

Caitlin Parris is a young poet bound to grow into the real thing. Her poem "Kathy" gives us the memorable details of this memorable woman's life. The ending is one I wish I'd written. Those water droplets dancing over the flowers---wonderful!


I loved to watch her
in her big sunhat,
wiping the sweat
from her face,
kneeling on the ground
like she was praying.

The flowers she planted
were the most beautiful things
I have ever seen.

When she watered them,
the water would dance across them,
the sun shining over them.

Caitlin Parris
Grade 6, Macon Middle School
Parents: Angela and Kevin Jump

First Prize, Grades 6-8

Collaborative poems are fun to write; here's one that knocked our socks off (How do you knock socks off, I wonder? That's a phrase these poets ought to take as their next subject!) Brooke and Allan Wolf had a good time performing this one. Damon couldn't attend.

Under bite-----------------------Under bite
two years ----------------------- three years
Railroad tracks ------------------Metal Mouth
Brace Face---------------------- Tin Grin
Mouth Open--------------------- Stretched a mile
Ow! -----------------------------Ow!
Thread--------------------------- the floss
up, -------------------------------down.
Ow!------------------------------ Ow!
Food stuck------------------------ Tongue it out.
snthsn. ---------------------------snthsn.

Damon Johnson and Brooke Watson
Grade 6, Macon Middle School
Parents: Dennis and Diana Johnson
and Kevin and Dawn Watson

Second Prize, Grades 6-8

Edward Madill will soon give Allan Wolf a run for his poetic money when it comes to bringing a poem alive for an audience. This is a witty, perfectly paced poem that leaves us with a profound sense of what the poet calls "the mystery of life."

Your Mom

Your mom thinks she can talk,
To animals.
Which is cool….
But I still get freaked out,
Especially when she looks at my cat in the eye and
Sincerely asks him
“What’s wrong.”

To this my cat licks himself
(there were a couple of grungy spots).
He saunters over to the litter box and pees.
I smell a whiff of ammonia.
Your mom sulks to the living room couch,
Audubon prints hanging in the

Your mom thinks she can talk,
To animals.
Which is cool….
But every time I see her walk past your “pets”
(The man you keep in the hamster cage,
the woman that lives in that cute miniature house
Out in your front yard,
Or even you—
With your nice nose and your okay figure),
I want to say:

Not only did you confuse the
Piss out of my cat,
But none of us know
What’s going on in your head….
Which is not cool.”

And I still remember that day when you asked:
“Doesn’t everyone’s mommy talk to animals?”
And for show and tell you brought in a poem,
Dictated to your mom by your parakeet.

And all the while
In the background of your house,
People whisper unheard syllables
About the sun, the moon, and the stars
(And maybe
Something about the circle of life,
Our place in the world, and all those questions
That keep us up at night)
To the thinning air,

Near the only window in your house.

Edward Madill
Grade 12, Smoky Mountain High School
Parents: Debbi and Ted Madill

First Prize, Grades 9-12

(Edward Madill receives his check and certificate.)

I was so glad to see a sonnet, a real sonnet among the winners. I've seen too many fourteen liners whose poets call them sonnets when they really don't have any of the sonnet's earmarks. The ear is where the sonnet lives; just listen to the rhythm and rhyme of this poem.

The World’s Music

The noise that’s all around me fills my ears—
The bouncing, laughing, bubbly shrieks of glee.
A cry, a shout, and eyes welled up with tears;
Arpeggios formed in oddest harmony.
The school of bricks that looms two stories tall,
It swallows me into its rooms of chance,
With colors swirled on boards and down the hall,
And waves of voices twirling in their dance.
And when I seek my place of solitude
The trees whisper their stories to the wind.
The grasses sway and sunlight lifts my mood,
While birds sing under skies that have no end.
The music of the world is part of me,
And with it from the world I am now free.

Mandi Dean
Grade 10, Smoky Mountain High School
Parents: Jim and Lisa Dean

Second Prize, Grades 9-12

Nicole Bowers asks some of the most important questions a young woman can ask and she does this without sounding self-pitying. On the contrary she sounds mature and self-aware. Poetry enables her to say "out loud" what so many of us keep silent.

Is it Bad?

Is it bad
That I don’t believe in myself enough to say “that hurt”?

Is it bad
That I can’t say what my brain harbors and locks for days?

Is it bad
That even though on the outside
I am shining,
But so much more is wrong?

Is it bad
That I, a passable and pensive little girl,
Can’t decide what to do
On my own?

Is it bad
That I, even though I try, am still scared out of
My mind to tell how bad
That hurt?

Is it bad
That I, build walls, and block everyone off
To keep them from knowing
How I
Really feel?

Is it bad
That I get jealous,
And want so badly to be

Is it bad
That I could never, even if the world were ending
Could say this out loud?

Is it bad
That I am

Nicole Bowers
Grade 10, Smoky Mountain High School

Honorable Mention, Grades 9-12

Thank you, thank you to the students, teachers and parents who helped make this project a succes!

Friday, November 13, 2009


Michael Chitwood is a free-lance writer and a lecturer at the University of North Carolina. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The New Republic, Threepenny Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Field, The Georgia Review and numerous other journals. Ohio Review Books has published two books of his poetry--Salt Works (1992) and Whet (1995). His third book, The Weave Room, was published by The University of Chicago Press in the Phoenix Poets series (1998). His collection of essays, Hitting Below the Bible Belt, was published by Down Home Press in 1998. Gospel Road Going, a collection of poems about his native Appalachia, was published in 2002 and was awarded the 2003 Roanoke-Chowan Prize for Poetry. In 2006, he published a collection of essays and short stories called Finishing Touches. His collection of poetry From Whence was released in March 2007 from Louisiana State University Press. Tupelo Press published his book Spill in October of 2007. Spill was named as a finalist for ForeWard magazine’s poetry book of the year and won the 2008 Roanoke-Chowan Prize.

The following poems are from Michael's collection published by LSU Press, From Whence.

At the Wilco with some Founding Fathers

Down the Havoline, Quaker State aisle
goes Jefferson, if his shirt can be believed.
The red stitching over the right pocket
proclaims this man to be a namesake
of the author of the Declaration of Independence
and if you can’t believe a man’s shirt
what are you going to believe?
Hamilton, what a strange coincidence,
doubts aloud that the cashier
cannot access the safe and Franklin,
spook me out, is eyeing the better wines
while recommending the Appalachian spring water.
It’s all here—White Rain hairstyling spray, tic tacs,
flashlights, corn chips and nation-makers.
And now Jefferson, who wanted to be remembered
for penning Virginia’s statute on religious freedom,
says a standing silent prayer over a chili dog
before taking a bite and heading out
through the calibrated doors, he’s nearly six feet I see,
into the republic of Friday morning

Basement Barber

Here were said the words men say.
The oil stove winked its slit black eye;
it knew they did not have their way.

A whitetail made for the edge of the page.
Vitalis came before the talc.
My father’s dark hair began to fade.

Barrelhead Thurman palmed my scalp,
knuckled my ear when he was done
just to hear a little boy yelp.

They rode, hats off, through years of lies
on bus seats the county junked,
out-fished, out-hunted the ones who’d died.

My father’s dark hair began to fade.
The oil stove winked its slit black eye.
It knew he did not have his way.

The dead grow long and beautiful hair.
They have said what they had to say
to stir that basement’s damp, sweet air.

Morning Walk, Holden Beach
for Tom Andrews

Ghost moon in the upper right-hand corner
where we used to write our names—

Is it quiet there, Tom,
adrift from your drift of ashes?

I strike out towards the rising sun,
your blank blue, your murmur in surf

to my right, dunes and salt-blasted beachfronts
to my left. I can still see

the scribblings sand crabs left
in their nightly scurry for the day’s discards.

This page, like all the others, will be erased
soon, but for now there’s a line or two.

The waves unscroll their best bond,
a finish like a mirror under the sandpipers.

You’d like that, I think, text as pure reflection,
no scuff of us to mar the brief recording.

There are no hills here to look to for help
though the ocean seems upgrade at the horizon.

I sing a little under my breath, as the saying goes—
old JT, Dylan, even that God-awful

song about West Virginia where your urn lies,
my honest friend, at Point Pleasant.

The sun’s up now, full, and gulls yuck
at their own stand-up. I smell coffee

and turn, my back to the sun’s hot yolk,
to head for home, following my shadow.

Men Throwing Bricks

The one on the ground lofts two at a time
with just the right lift for them to finish
their rise as the one on the scaffold turns
to accept them like a gift and place them
on the growing stack. They chime slightly
on the catch. You’d have to do this daily,
morning and afternoon, not to marvel.

The One Day

We were behind on the job
so waited out the rain in the pickup.
Because the backhoe would mire
he shouldered the four-foot pipe joints
and brought them to us in the ditch.
The red mud clutched and tugged at his boots
and Bill laughed at his “Swan Lake”
as he fought through, lurching and staggering
when the mud would suddenly let go.
But he kept them coming, lugging the red joints
to us and then slogging back for another
while we slid on the gasket and fit the pipes together.
You can see how, pushing like that, he wound up,
two years later, with the tiny plastic piping of IVs
feeding into both arms and the three drainage tubes
snaking from under the patch on his chest.
His skin was a shade away from being same as the sheet
when I saw him in the ICU,
and he couldn’t have lifted the drinking straw
on the bedside tray.
But that one day he brought two hundred yards of pipe
and even the red earth couldn’t stop him.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


While judging the Nazim Hikment Festival poetry contest last spring, I kept coming back to a set of poem that moved me with their perspective and their language. They turned out to be by Peter Blair, a widely published poet who is now teaching at UNC-Charlotte. Peter did not make the final list of winners, but his poems stayed with me. They deserve a wide readership.

(See review at end of post)

Peter Blair’s first full-length book Last Heat, won the 1999 Washington Prize and was published by Word Works Press. Born in Pittsburgh, he has worked in a psychiatric ward and a steel mill, and served three years in the Peace Corps in Thailand.
Peter Blair has a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Iowa. He has worked in a steel mill, a psychiatric ward, and served three years in the Peace Corps in Thailand. He has published three chapbooks, INSIDE THE TRACKHOE, A ROUND, FAIR DISTANCE FROM THE FURNACE, and FURNACE GREENS all of which won national contests. His first full-length collection, LAST HEAT, won the 1999 Washington Prize and is forthcoming in February from Word Works Press. About his work, Alicia Ostriker has written:

"Peter Blair's poetry takes me right inside a place I've never been, the working life of a steel mill. God is in the details, and they are good and strong here."

His poems have appeared in CRAZYHORSE, RIVER CITY, POETRY EAST, and WEST BRANCH. He has received two Pennsylvania Council On the Arts Grants for poetry.

Peter lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife and son.

Walking the Crosses with Jim Villano,

St. Vincent College Reunion

The newly cut grass over the graves

of the Benedictine monks says what

it always says: I’m green. I grow. I die.

The metal crosses marking each plot

line up over the hill, contoured

to the dips and knolls of the land.

They proclaim their names and dates,

like an inevitable iron grass that says what iron

always says: I was hot. I cooled. I rust.

Jim and I walk to the end of the line,

the most recent crosses, Father Ronald,

Father Alexander. We talk about all-nighters

studying for Father Alex’s economics finals,

Macro and Micro. Ronald, the Academic

Dean, knew all the favorite student haunts

off campus, told my father what he wanted

to hear: that I should be a Bio. major to get in

to Med. School. Heads down, eyes on the graves

where the crosses enter the earth, we can’t

say what we’re thinking. So we let the wind

whisper and lisp, what the wind always

says, I rush. I sigh. I’m nothing.


Discussing the Dream of Culture with Professor Kwaam

At the corner of Somprasong and Petchaburi

we sit at a rickety metal table. Our soup steams

in sidewalk sunlight. Cars crawl on the street

like the streams of ants up and down the shop wall.

His shiny head fuzzed with new hair,

eyebrows shaved clean, Kwaam smiles, ethereal,

kind: Thai and American cultures, two dreams

of one world, the Dharma. A few months ago

he taught me Thai and how to read palms:

A good way to hold hands with a girl. He winked.

Now, he's one day out of a monastery and saffron

robes. Noodles slip off my novice chopsticks.

My soup darkened by soy sauce, peanuts,

sugar, the strands disappear in my bowl.

Kwaam's noodles twine in clear broth.

At the plywood counter, I buy another soup.

The cook dunks a strainer of beef chunks

in boiling water. The red meat turns gray

and rubbery in bubbling froth. He dumps them

into a bowl with cilantro, sprouts, broth

and a fleshy lump of noodles. So, what is Dharma?

I set the dish on the table. Dharma is the empty

bowl. Joking, again. The sky's blue, like a bowl

overturned on market stalls and bleached

white buildings. The abbot took us to an autopsy.

They cut open a woman, removed the heart,

liver, intestines. He tells me about shriveled skin,

hollow rib cages arching over tables,

pails of limp, gray organs. Dharma.

My soup steams. My abdomen's distended.

The market gurgles ageless sounds around us.

I can't look at Kwaam's sad, triumphant smile,

or the emptiness deepening in his sunlit bowl.

Previously published in Visions International

The following were orginally published in Poetry magazine.

Bangkok, First day

100 off the plane.
Humid jet-fuel fumes
mingle with the jasmine lei
the Education Ministry staffer
eases around my neck.
In the distance
a mountain rises:
sapphire smog.


We drink quart beers at noon
in the outdoor market. Bright
blue tabletops. Tarps block
the white hot sun among whiffs
of charcoal and sweet coconut curry.
In the cool shadows of an overpass,
Pepsi crates totter on ice chunks
hidden under rags and sawdust.
Flames leap from a nearby wok.
The cook smiles: "Pak Fay, green
vegetables of fire. Eat them and cry."


On a blanket by the sidewalk,
people passing, a man's calloused toes
grip bamboo strands, thread them
through a round frame. His arm stumps
twitch above his lifting
calves and flexing knees. Beside him,
a stack of baskets grows on the cement.


At the temple, pineapple wedges
stacked crosswise gleam
on the vendor's cart, sliced
sunshine, brilliant
as the gold leaf peeling
from Buddha's face.


The exhaust-filled surges
of taxis, busses, trucks
thunder by the child
islanded in the intersection.
The twilight sun thickens
the air around him. He sells
jasmine flowers, holds them
dangling high over his head
as if saving them from a flood.


In a restaurant we order "soup."
Knotty viscera, tough gray rings,
and burgundy blood cubes
gleam in steamy broth.
"Come on," Ed laughs.
"Eat your entrails."


In the Mississippi
Queen on Patpong Road, her hands
rub my back, silky snakes
up and down my spine.
Swaying on platforms, girls
dance in bikinis, hypnotic
in swirls of incense and bar smoke.
I watch her oval sienna face
in the mirror's steamboat glitter,
eclipsed by naked legs. She whispers,
in my ear, "I do anything
for you. Try me."


"No one sleeps till dawn,"
we all say, walking, 4 am.
In a market gearing up
for morning, bloody eyes.
A just-slaughtered
buffalo's skull watches us
from behind the red mound
of its butchered flesh.


A sucking "woof," like a snuffed
candle flame against
my ear, the stone
clatters into metal
shop gates. "Farang! Foreigner!"
floats in from wherever
my fear is. We turn,
and six trishaw drivers lounge,
feet up on handlebars,
across the street.

Bangkok Roundabout

Movie billboards blot out a six-story building.
"This Week": a bare-chested man kung-fu kicks
on a flaming yellow background, leaps over
tiny scampering armies while cities burn.
"Coming Soon": a prisoner, handcuffed in blue rags,
towers sadly over the sidewalk. In painted insets,
a judge ponders scales, a woman fingers a gun.

Below, where the scaffold-poles rise from grass,
families live. A mother shifts a steaming pot
on a charcoal brazier. Her boy chases chickens.
Their laundry hangs under the burning cities
and the huge feet of the prisoner.

(originally appeared in PIGEON CREEK)

Friday For the River

After work, you bring a yellow envelope
stuffed with tips from The Wheel Cafe.
My check from St. Francis Hospital
bears the saint's image, arms raised in prayer.
This week we had two on suicide watch,
and a schizophrenic wrote his name in shit
on the quiet room wall. We stroll into the cold,
windless evening. It's Friday, an illusion
of completeness upon us. Walking twilit streets
to the river, we pass people jostling home
or cramming into happy hours. Lights switch on
along the wharf, and the sky's muted blue
corona fades behind Coal Hill.

The river gives back everything
the sky sends down. The bridge arcs into
its reflection, a perfect ellipse of girders.
The hill carries its dark complement, houses
clinging to its underbelly. Along West End,
the lamps set down spikes of light
that shiver in the gloom of the river bend,
the water surface invisible. You lean
against me, your eyes luminous
as the blue water. We look over the levee,
down into a stillness that contains us,
a stillness where a red full moon rises
into the depths of the Allegheny.

© All Copyright, 2000, Peter Blair.
All Rights Reserved. Printed By Permission.

by Peter Blair
Autumn House Press (2003) 64 pages
ISBN 0969941977, Poetry

One of the qualities I admire most in a poet is good judgment, and Peter Blair has it in ample supply. In The Divine Salt, Blair tackles a tough subject gracefully with poems about his experiences as an aide in the psychiatric ward of St. Francis Hospital in Pennsylvania.

His good judgment shows up first in the all-important choice of the opening poem, “Driving to Work,” which perfectly sets the tone of the collection. St. Francis Hospital/ looms above Bloomfield,/ two wings of burnt brick, its medieval/ spire a dark candle flame./ I’ve seared my mind in its heat:/ belted men to a steel bed/ . . . walked them/out of electroshock. . . With this passage, Blair establishes himself as both a participant and a witness to the inescapable emotional brutality of life—if you can call it that—in a psychiatric ward populated with characters who suffer from acute mental illness, are often tormented and sometimes violent.

As a witness, the author is always present in the poems, though he wisely keeps the focus on the subject—usually a patient—rather than himself. In doing so, he tells a ripping good narrative in language that is plain but compelling, while managing to keep enough emotional distance from his subjects to avoid melodrama. In “Donna Lee Polito,” the speaker is a psychiatric aide (the author, based on his bio), who escorts a female patient from one floor of the hospital to another. We learn that the patient has been improving, or so it appears: this is her first time off the locked floor/ in months. . ./ She’s tried suicide five times in three years. . ./ She’s been fine for weeks: helpful, bright, written on her chart. Confident of her cooperation, the aide is stunned when Donna Lee makes a break for it. He chases her down the street, but she gets away. From the eighth floor window, nurses watched/ her run, a tiny wavering figure, escaping/ all of us. . . She jumped this time,/ vaulting over the red railing from the high cement/ of the Bloomfield Bridge down/ to railroad tracks and scrubby trees.

The action and drama of the events depicted in Donna Lee’s rush to suicide are quite enough for the reader to handle without having the author report on his feelings. Assuming this is either a true story or based on real events, the author/narrator must have been devastated. Again, Blair has the good judgment to report the events objectively. It is only later, in “Lunch Break Between Wings,” that he chooses to let us see his remorse, and even here, he writes with commendable restraint: A cyclone of leaves and dust whirls/ . . . like the blinding/ restless grief// she must have felt on the bridge, high/ above the ragged treetops, Donna Lee,/ lost in the air// above the tracks. The rustling wind dusts my eyes. The passage ends with his too-late lament, Donna Lee, don’t leave.

In “St. Francis Night Shift,” Blair speaks directly to the irony of trying to help people who don’t want to be helped. I’m an aide, but who do I aid,/ holding a patient down,/ as the nurse peels off jeans and underwear/ to expose the white flank of buttock/ to the needle? In “Doctor Strong,” a code phrase for “patient is violent, we need help!” we learn that Blair is sometimes the one helped and at other times, the helper. Sometimes I am Dr. Strong: my hands pin elbows and forearms, or pry a patient’s hand from an aide’s neck.

I looked up the web site for St. Francis hospitals (there are many, all associated with the Catholic Order of St. Francis). One of their guiding principles is that they “never make inappropriate or negative remarks” about their patients. Though many of the characters in this collection behave quite badly—punching out the medical staff, screaming, soiling their sheets—Blair holds true to this Franciscan ideal throughout the book. Not once does he stoop to disparage those who are afflicted with mental illness.

The title poem bears an epigraph in which the author reminds us that St. Francis himself was sometimes “laughed at as a lunatic and driven away with many insults and stones.” In contrast, The Divine Salt regards the mentally ill with compassion and respect. St. Francis would have been pleased.

Richard Allen Taylor

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Published and printed in Asheville, North Carolina by Grateful Steps Publishing.

The poet and photographer will be at the Great Smoky Mountains Book fair. The Soul Tree would make a perfect Christmas Gift. Or several.

To say that Laura Hope-Gill and John Fletcher, Jr. have put together one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen would be an understatement. Here is a collaboration that expands the definition of that word. It's a seamlessly interwoven collection of words and images that invite and inspire, in the the original meaning of that over-used term. Laura's poems show the depths of her poetic "inseeing, " Rilke calls it, and Fletcher's photographs open up the landscape that Laura sings into being with her words. The Soul Tree speaks to the landscapes of internal and exterior reality. In this collection those two landscapes have found harmony through two artists working together in celebration of what they love.

Laura Hope-Gill is in the process of being certified as a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator by the National Federation for Poetry Therapy, working under the mentorship of poet and psychotherapist Perie Longo. The Director of Asheville Wordfest, a free poetry festival which presents poetry as Citizen Journalism, she consciously pursues ways of revealing poetry’s relevance to every-day life and not merely an “art form” whose only use is to beautiful. The Soul Tree: Poems and Photographs of the Southern Appalachians (Grateful Steps, Asheville) is a collaboration with local photographer John Fletcher, Jr. and is an application of her vision of poetry as a conversation between inner and outer worlds.

Renowned photographer John Fletcher has this to say about the beginnings of their collaboration.

"After visiting my landscapes website in the spring of 2008, Laura replied with an email containing an attachment titled, 'The Soul Tree.' I was stunned after reading the poem, then I noticed that there were 35 more pages to the document. My jaw dropped a little lower each time I scrolled to the next poem…36 in all. I was speechless.Not only was her writing beautiful and poignant, but her poetry brought new life to the photographs. I was also quite overwhelmed by her choice of photos…not the pretty sunset pictures that most people like. She was inspired by the photos that were my favorites…the mysterious and more abstract images that I feel personify my experience and observations.

Today I continue this pursuit by working as a staff
photographer for the Asheville Citizen-Times, shooting
weddings, and freelancing for regional and national
clients including, USA Today, The Associated Press,
MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and
the Asheville Chamber of Commerce."

Images and poems from The Soul Tree may be found at, along with ordering information and more about the two artists who have brought this lovely book into existence.

Here are two pages from the book.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Nancy Dillingham has a new book of poetry out from Catawba Publishers ( titled Colloquy in Black and White. The poems are sometimes stark, always accessible. Nancy is a 6th generation Dillinghamm from Big Ivy in western North Carolina. She has published several books of poetry, as well as essays and articles. She lives in Asheville with her cat named Serendipity.

Nancy has been growing by leaps and bounds as a poet, and this new collection shows ample evidence of her growth. She is becoming a fearless poet, taking on subjects that might daunt others. She's a mountain woman who knows her landscape and its dark places well.

She can confront them, all the while singing the light and the love of place. She reads widely, she listens, she challenges herself, without losing the moorings that keep her steady as a poet and an inhabitant of these mountains. She will be at the Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair, and I hope that other festivals and reading series across the state will begin to take notice of her work.

Suite on Love

Sitting here
fifty years later
as you whisper me
happy birthday
and our younguns
sing around us
with children of their own

I want to say
it is you
not the candles
on the cake
that takes my breath away

Too late coming to love
I made the usual blunders

A blush away from a baby
it was a tom-fool thing
for me to do
bringing you
country ham
cured sweet as honey
biscuits and gravy
stack cake

How could
I lie
with you
after you left me
for a roll
in the hay
with the first hussy
that gave you the eye?

you called me later
like a stuck pig
where I struck
you with a piece
of stove wood
and you slapped me

Sitting here
as I think of all the pain
yours is the only music I hear
and I want to tell you
everything still seems the same
like the first time
clear as a bell

right as rain


My aunt sat on her front porch
in a chair bottomed with strips of tires
slinging her crossed leg, dipping snuff

Your great-grandmother ruled
with an iron hand
and Grandpa was a rounder, she said

Double Dillinghams they were
cousins marrying cousins
Elbert and Mary

Owned land as far as the eye could see
all the way up to the Coleman Boundary

They say he courted her by bringing armfuls of flowers
picked by the roadside or out of other people's yards
traded his mule for a chestnut mare

Carried her around in a hand basket after they married
all the while making time with the hired help

The house stood right over there on the hill
where the graveyard is today--they gave the land

A smile threatened the corners of my aunt's wrinkled mouth
and a small rivulet of snuff ran down one side

After he died
Grandma didn't take to widow's weeds
said they didn't become her

She'd sit on the porch cooling Sunday afternoons in the summer
after cooking cut-off corn and baking soft butter biscuits
She'd throw back her head and cackle

I ought to have taken me a young lover
just to bedevil Elbert, she'd say

But he'd have dragged chains up and down the stairs at night
and, after my laying out, danced on my grave for spite

My aunt's face softened
A long time passed before she spoke again

We grandchildren would play on the porch
run the length of it back and forth
like fighting fire

or stand under the arbor eating pink grapes
clear as glass and sweet as honey
bees buzzing a halo over our heads

Sometimes when I look really hard
I can just see Grandma
coming over the ridge

her bright apron glowing
waving like a flag
calling me home


Whenever you go looking for what’s lost, everything is a sign.”
Eudora Welty

I have not bled
this month, Mother
and I am afraid

Just yesterday
a bird flew into the living room
losing its way

I didn’t sleep a wink last night
A dog howled outside my window
and the clock didn’t strike

Must have been midnight
I saw Will’s first wife plain as day
standing over my bed

glistening with sweat
crying with no sound
holding her dead baby

all the while
Will sleeping quietly
beside me

I felt the same fear
I saw in her face
this time last year

You remember, don’t you, Mother?
You asked me to help with the birthing
It was my first time

You cut cotton strips
and bound her wrists
to the bedposts

I placed the small, round stick
you handed me
into her mouth

bathed her face
as you commanded her
to bear down

I remember most the silence
as I watched you wrap the baby—stillborn
in the same soft cloth

And I can never forget the look
in Will’s eyes at the funeral
when he finally raised them

and gazed at me
as if seeing me
for the first time

Tiny shivers
ran up and down my spine
and my whole body shook

as he took a sprig of white lilac
from his wife’s casket
and handed it to me

He’s out there now
on the front porch
drinking his coffee

staring over the valley
looking at rows and rows
of newly-planted fields

seeing the cattle
grazing on the hill
below the graveyard

the headstone visible still
in its rising up
and shining in the light

Daddy’s Girl

With a wink and a leer
her daddy holds
the cold open can of beer
tantalizingly near

tickling her nose
Through bow-like lips
eager as a baby bird
she sates her thirst

with a single sip
laughs a giggly
hiccupping laugh
then burps

Putting up one perfect hand
she catches a trickle of froth
as it bursts like broth
from her soft pink mouth