Southern Night, December Sky

In a breathe of crisp air,
a moment of stillness
I lift my eyes and see her
dressed in purple velvet,
beset with points of star glitter
and full moon’s silver light.

She sleeps over naked trees
reaching up to touch her belly
with still arms, stiff arms.
She rests a world apart

from us who scurry
over muddy ground
from cars to houses
then back again, from gift giving
and turkey dinners, from lit trees
and loud voices.

My heart beats deeper

for her beauty
and my spirit
leaps for life beyond
its clay foundation.

Janice Holt Giles

a kentucky writer’s cabin

I took this photo at the Janice Holt Giles arts and crafts festival in October 2007. 

 When I was a child

her world was a far away place,

a magical place, Piney Ridge,

where apple blossoms fell as pink rain

on people’s heads and everyone spoke

with rich voices, rising and falling like hills,

flowing like rivers.  I didn’t know

her world was my own back yard

and her characters, the men and women

who built my town.  I have always lived

on the real Piney Ridge.

Write the Land


Kentucky Sunrise, taken through car windshield

Being Kentuckian is being
part of this dark earth, rooted
like the giant sycamore
down by the molasses mill.

It’s knowing self
is not established by realitly tv
or pronouncing “i” like eye,
but rather “ah”, a sense of wonder.

It’s holding onto old magic
long after the Global Community
says your faith is invalid,
your culture irrelevant.

It is determination
with a knife in her fist,
compassion in her eyes,
grace in her steps and steel
in her back.

It’s being part bobcat and bear,
having a love affair
with every mountain, tree,
stream and field, knowing
how to skin a deer, clean a fish,
fix a car, make a quilt,
play a musical instrument
and entertain with ease.

It’s understanding
unwritten laws, unspoken nuances
outsiders never get, no matter how long
they stay. When you know Kentucky,
really know her, she gets in your blood,
haunts your dreams, like her mist haunts
these mountains, always rising
but never letting go

The Last Lover

Mist on my Grapevines

Just because we don’t walk in rain

under that striped umbrella anymore,

me in my big brown sweater

and you in your jean jacket,

doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten

or that it wasn’t real,

doesn’t mean I don’t think of you

everytime I see a buckeye,

farmhouse or trumpet vine,

a cup of black coffee

or an old red barn.

We always knew in our logic

that too many years stood

between us, too many miles,

too much life,

but I wanted you to know

that when I sit on the porch

and the wind sweeps in on me,

I feel your kisses on my hair

and when the rain mist blows

over me, I feel your tears

on my cheeks;

listen, farm boy,

when years still my agility,

my wit and my dreams,

it will still be you,

always you,

even when it can be

no one at all.

I Dreamed of Heritage



I felt your hand

on my shoulder

last night


as we looked

over the land

grown up with weeds

briers and trees.


We stood

side by side,

knowing the fight

that lay before us,


to find Daddy’s treasures

before the fire consumed them

and bring them safely home.


As we rambled over hills

and raced through valleys

my foot got stuck in hole; I fell.


Flames licked at me,

would have engulfed me

if you had not turned back

and stretched out your hand.


You pulled me up

even though I smelled of smoke

again we ran, our bags heavy

and filled with treasures,


home was just beyond

the mist.



I make no claims

of brilliance or elegance

only of white walls

and handmade furniture


of lavenders blooming

and roses climbing

outside my window,

even in winter


I know of tadpoles and lizards,

snakes and crayfish

of flint rocks and red clay

passion fruit and sumac berries.


I have tasted sand,

caressed hawk feathers

and scarred my knuckles

while building barbed wire fences


I walked the halls of academia,

succeeded, so they tell me,

because of my memory

and ability to read people


but somehow I have failed

to understand the appeal

of leather cases, concrete,

high heel shoes


and gray wool skirts.


Internet People

In a place
I’ve never seen,
across an ocean
and a couple of continents,
you live among temples
and dark-eyed children
married to
an Asian queen
with warm copper skin,
a voice of porcelain bells,
and soft tiny feet

or maybe
you live alone
in an outback desert
with west winds
combing your hair,
biting your back,
refusing to let you
forget where you’ve been.

A man or a woman,
you’re a mystery to me
in a world I’ll never see
and still, mostly,
I just wonder

what you look like,
the color of your hair
if you have any.
To one born without sight
it wouldn’t matter
but because I was not
I can’t see you
when I close my eyes.


I searched for you when I was young
among yellow weeds and oil wells
beyond cliff edges and found you
buried beneath brown leaves
with mushrooms and black earth

I sat with you amidst mossy trees,
birch and sycamore above the creek,
stealing away chore time hours
just to hear your voice,
soft as bird songs,
strong as thunder,

I whispered my love
while lying there in ferns
staring up at you
feeling you

Now, they tell me
you were never real
because they can’t see you,
but I think
maybe they are blind.

7 Excuses for Why I Don’t Cuss

1. I failed to form a habit 

as I grew among weeds

in a kind hillbilly woman’s garden

across the creek, up the holler

and beside the oil wells.

2. I have no need to impress,

to fluff my feathers

like a male peacock

showing I mean business

by littering my speech

with meaningless syllables.

3. I say too much anyway,

why add words without substance,

save to prove tetosterone existence

or hormonal imbalance

or fear of unacceptance or belief

that I must because…well, I just must.

4. It’s common, too common,

ultimate cliches. Anybody

can do it, without true thought,

demonstrating words without purpose

in an age of actions without thought.

6. Once, when I was small

granny said, “Ladies don’t cuss,

men may,

 women may,

but not noblemen,

not honorable men

and never ladies.

Be brave. Be unique.

Be a lady. When you grow up,

they will be rare.”

7. Granny would wash my mouth

with lye soap.

Lye tastes terrible.

***Disclaimer: be open minded. Don’t hate the poet because she believes a mouth can be clean and still communicate. She’s a nice person. Really.

Belle of Louisville


I lean over the rail,

watch the red paddle wheel

stir water to a froth,


throwing mist and October air

blown down from Indiana

into my face.


Sometimes steam blinds me

and smells of old pipes,

like a laundry.


On deck number two

they’re playing rag time

and I think of New Orleans


how I’ve never been there

and of the Titanic which

had no steam but a grand staircase,


then of a book I read

about a steam boat captain

and his red head bride.


I live there

in ball room dance days

and Mark Twain memories


until a student asked,

“Teacher, you got a quarter?”

In 1983


we lived
in a four room house,
without plumbing,
cooked mayonnaise biscuits
in a toaster oven
and shot outhouse snakes
with the landlord’s pistol.

The world sang
back then when
a creek bed was heaven
and climbing that bluff,
romantic adventure.
Lord a mercy,
everything was romance

even two dollar bottles
of grape juice
nobody sold wine.

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.