Posted by: ktzefr | August 24, 2011

After the Quake: Reading Southern Poetry

Yesterday an earthquake and today a hurricane with its eye on the East Coast — as if we didn’t have enough worries in DC!  After a week with several thunderstorms and downpours, however, today’s sky is bluer than the washed-out blue-gray of those earlier 100-degree days, and there are mountains of fluffy cumulus clouds and amazing wisps of stratus hanging low, reminding me of the angel hair we draped around the Christmas tree when I was a kid in Kentucky.

I thought an escape to the South might be in order today, and what better folks to travel with than a batch of Southern poets.  Here are a few favorite lines…

“Possum work, world’s windowlust, lens of the Byzantine–/Friday in Appalachia./Hold on, old skeletal life,/there’s more to come, if I hear right.”

~ Charles Wright, “Opus Posthumous” from Appalachia


We all have selective memories, whether we’ve done the picking and choosing or it’s been done for us, but sometimes memories almost lost come back again via the words of others…

“Easter hats…./The hollow where wild ginger grew…./Blackberry dumplings…./Her mother’s favorite Psalm…./The smell of dirt, the seeds going in/….The way dust motes caught light, winter mornings in the barn.”

~ Jane Sasser, “A Catalog of Lost Things”


Every summer we picked wild blackberries to eat and can and freeze and endured the thicket of briars and thorns and chiggers.

“…along the sunniest ragged edge/of the forest, thorny blackberry bushes/green and red leaves, red and black/beads shining like snakes’ eyes/overpower the barbed-wire fence/and sprawl across the rusty bedsprings in the pasture…”

~ Edwina Pendarvis, “Melee”


Our radio stations in the KY hills went off the air around supper time and gradually reception drifted in from faraway stations — WLS in Chicago, WOWO in Fort Wayne.  Sometimes full of static, sometimes as clear as a ringing bell.  All one needed for a few moments of sheer bliss was a cushion for the glider and the transistor radio.

“How fine to have a radio/and beautiful music playing/while I sit at rest in the evening./How fine to hear through the music/the cries of wild geese on the river.”

~Wendell Berry, “Listen!” from Given: Poems


Photo: DFawcett

“I come from the Warm Morning stove, darkness/beneath piles of quilts, a gas heater/in the bathroom, ice in the bathtub./I’m from poison ivy and Calamine lotion,/Luden’s Wild Cherry cough drops, castor oil/in the Frigidaire, and my mother’s hand on my forehead.”

~ Charlie G. Hughes, “Where I’m From”


“Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood/By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard/The great geese hoot northward. 
I could not see them, there being no moon/And the stars sparse. I heard them./I did not know what was happening in my heart.”

~ Robert Penn Warren, “Tell Me a Story”


Hiking in the woods was a favorite past time.  We gathered hickory nuts for jam cake in the fall, coal and kindling in the winter, and wildflowers in spring.  One spring for a botany class I had to collect and classify 50 wild plants from the Kentucky hills.  At first I didn’t think it was possible, but soon I realized there was seemingly no end to the wild stuff.  And it was always good to have a candy bar in my pocket for the hike.

“Up the sunny path, sand spun/silk by Indian footprints,/we sweat even in sparse shade./Finally we enter trees/halfway up Rattlesnake, pause/to rest on stones, eat Hersheys,/gather our strength to climb steep.”

~ Nancy Dew Taylor, “Divining on the Mountain: 1952


Mountain mist; Photo:DFawcett

“There’s no way to describe how the light splays/after the storm…./There’s no way to picture it,/though others have often tried to./Here in the mountains it’s like a ricochet from a sea surge,/Meadowgrass moving like sea stalks/in the depths of its brilliance.”

~ Charles Wright, “Outscape”


“The woods and pastures are joyous/in their abundance now/in a season of warmth and much rain./We walk amidst foliage, amidst/song.  The sheep and cattle graze/like souls in bliss (except for flies)/and lie down satisfied.  Who now/can believe in winter?  In winter/ who could have hoped for this?

~ Wendell Berry, Given: Poems


I had a moment of disappointment at the hardware store when I stopped to buy birdseed.  Instead of flowers in the parking lot and the barbecue grills displayed in front of the store, the lot had been emptied of all blooming things and the sidewalk was lined with rakes!  My trees are still green, green, green — the maples and poplar and dogwood and hophorn beam.  The leaf “stars” on the sweetgum are enormous. 

Gotta make the most of the outdoors in these last days of summer!




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