Baptizin’ Artie

 

“Stepped in the water
water was cold
chilled my body
but not my soul”

We go down to Russell Creek
to see Artie git baptized.
The preacher-man,
he hands me her coat
then leads thet big woman
into the water, like she’s a child.

In her younger days
she laid up with Billy Joe,
havin his babies
without no marriage liscense
or nuthin
but now she’s given
her life to the Lord
an repentin o her ways,

a new woman
an she wants everbody
ta know it. This here water
don’t warsh away no sins.
The blood o Jesus done thet
two thousand years ago.
Artie, she’s a showin her old self
done been carried off
like a crumb on the water.

The woman
thets a goin down
ain’t the one a comin up.
Artie’s borned agin
an on her way to Heaven.
Hit don’t matter
what anybody says.

 

 

*A true story poem, dedicated to my friend, Artie, who passed away 20 years ago from breast cancer, but I was the youngin on the bank who held her coat the day she was baptized.

Homeplace

Windows broken,
door long gone,
yet flowered paper Momma hung
partially clings to the walls.

The banister still stands, winds,
but will never see
Christmas garland again.

There is no bed
in the room where I slept
and ghosts of laughing children
run down the hall.

I flinch at the phantom,
little girl gone,
did she live here at all
or was she a story child,
crayon on manilla paper,
yellowed by time?

First published in Pegasus 2004

I Am

A Mexica warrior woman

bathed brown in sun

obsidian blade in my hand

a cannibal for survival 

 

a gentle gypsy

dark and sweet,magical

red-dress dancing

and many-bracelets laughing

at shifting shapes in a camp fire’s dying leaps

 

a hillbilly youth,

innocent as a fawn in dry grass,

peaceful, Earth-knowing

with a Cherokee heart

mountain twang, 

 

three women wrapped in clay,

bottled in blood and bone,

a collector of skulls,

a counter of hearts

and a giver of grace.     

 

Over at the Store

Pa lives across from a country store. Been there for years. Ownership has changed several times. He goes over to eat dinner ’bout every day, sits at a table in back. Swaps tales with local farmers, like in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Road is coming through and Pa fears it will take business.

Day before yesterday I ate with him there. Felt like going back in time, to when I was a kid. Used to be that we’d work til lunch then get on the back of somebody’s pick-up and go to Wheeler’s store and get a boloney sandwich (sliced ’bout thick as your hand) with a big ole hunk of tomato, an RC Cola and a molasses-flavored moon pie.

We still have a lot of country stores, but rising gas prices, by-passes and general “progress” are doing their best to kill ’em.

The current owner, from North Carolina has traveled all over. He’s a good old boy though, real down home. Talks twangy, like the rest of us and wears hunting boots. He ate with Pa and me. Told us tales of his travels and all the weird things that happen to him everytime he goes north.

Lot of laughing went on, big story-swappin’. I did not want to finish my burger, to walk out of the snap shot of yesterday. I want to hold the image for the rest of my life before the road carries it away.

Discovering Joseph Pablio

Zach Franklin son of Joe Pablio Franklin.jpg

 My great-great uncle, Zach.

Great-great-grandpa

left Mexico at a time

when nobody did.

He worked for a soldier,
a farmer, a preacher,
made wooden shoes and bowls,
the way he had south
of the Rio in his youth

He married Black Irish Nancy
then changed both their names
to Franklin. He signed with an x

and told the clerk he was White.
She filed his marriage under
“colored” where I found his middle initial

was his mother’s Mexican name.

Ghosts of Tebb’s Bend

 

They say if you go ’round
midnight, you can hear
soldiers crawling up the bluff.

Leaves crunch beneath their boots,
Confederate wagons roll
across the blank bridge
and wounded men holler

as cannons blast and iron
balls whistle through air.
Maybe you’ll think you see,

but when you look again
it’s not there. All I know
is, I’m leaning over this rail,

watching the full moon
stare back at me
in rippling water.
I feel summer night wind

and the only sounds
I hear are the long ago
shatter of widows’ hearts
and these words marching,

with soldier feet, marching
inside my head.

Hillbilly Days Festival

Peep o’ daylight

we lit out 

to the West Virginia border,

to Deedie Moe’s trailer

at the foot of a Kimper mine;

we stayed the night,

slept on the floor,

cause he ain’t got beds

to speak of.

We woke with coal dust

caked in our noses

and fog in our eyes,

then climbed into trucks

and rode on over to Pikeville

to put on a show for tourists,

what come to the mountains

to see

an endangered species.

Sawmill Man

My daddy wears sawdust
on his gray cap
and powders himself
with timber dandruff.

At night he walks,
across the soggy bottom;
pulls his shoes off,
sits barefoot on the porch

where he smokes,
drinks instant coffee, black,
and watches us catch lightning bugs
in fruit jars.

Behind him she rises,
that old haint, Sparks Ridge.
She looks over the valley to claim
the magic of his life,

a working man’s family,
to gobble us up
and take us down,
like oak tree roots,

take us down,
down, down,
down to her belly.

*first published in Other Voices International Vol.20

What Progress Left Us

Used to be a mountain

back yonder, behind the house

rose up like mornin sun

jest as purdy as ye please.

T’aint there no more,

some men with money

came up here and blew it

to smittereens. All’s left

is that nasty hole o’ black

water, iffen ye kin call it thet.

More like the slush

in the bottom o’ pap’s

outhouse.

To learn more about the cost of mountain top removal visit any of these links:

http://www.christiansforthemountains.org/index.html

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/blog/2007/09/mountaintop_ministry.html#more

http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2006/02/16/reece/

http://www.hugg.com/node/1202

http://www.bookrenter.com/products/details/9780976881711/Coal_A_Poetry_Anthology/?utm_source=googlebase&utm_medium=cpc [I have work in this book]

http://www.blairmtp.com/CoalAnthology.htm

“I’m honored to be here with you. We’re an endangered species, we hillbillies. Massey Energy is terrorizing us in Appalachia. Little old ladies in their 70s can’t even sit on their porches. They have to cut their grass wearing respirators. That’s how these people have to live. The coal companies are the real terrorists in America. And we’re going to expose them for the murdering, lying thieves that they are.”

—Julia Bonds

The World’s Two Great Evils

Plastic and politics are the devil.
Plastic multiplies like flies
or roaches,
filling up cupboards
and cracks between
refrigerators and walls,
just waiting for its lord,
lord of the flies.

Politics are laden with lies
and lie with liars
then get up feeding lies
to gullible masses
who stand like
baby birds, mouths open,
waiting for their father,
father of lies.

__________________

*for those who understand and those who don’t wouldn’t even if I explained it.

Panthers

When I am alone in their woods,
(which may be any woods at all)
I walk softly
with iron backbone
and steel eyes.

Jaguars walk these hills
dressed in cougar skin,
calling their catamount
calls among bear caves
and beaver dams;

they say I am kin
though breath catches
in my throat at sight
of their tracks and
hair stands
frozen.