From the warm and toasty poetry desk of Appalachian Places, we welcome in the new year of 2023 with two poets connected to our past and two poets who represent our future. G.C. Waldrep is a poet with familial ties to western North Carolina whose very first published poem, 26 years ago, appeared in Now & Then Magazine. He went on to become one of the most celebrated experimental American poets, and we are pleased to share six poems from his Plague Nights sequence. Elaine Fowler Palencia is also a poet-alum of Now & Then Magazine, and has returned to us with poems steeped in both myth and everyday experience. Rieppe Moore and Sam Campbell are emerging writers who we hope to see for many years in the pages of Appalachian Places. They both write of folklore and local legend, by turns comic and frightening, and they each have an uncanny ear for dialogue and capturing both what people say to one another and how they say it.
Jesse Graves, Appalachian Places Poetry Editor
G.C. Waldrep: 'NIGHT 736'; 'NIGHT 807'; 'NIGHT 828'; 'NIGHT 835'; 'NIGHT 901'; 'NIGHT 805'
G.C. Waldrep’s most recent books are The Earliest Witnesses (Tupelo/Carcanet, 2021) and feast gently (Tupelo, 2018), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. Recent work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Paris Review, New England Review, Yale Review, Colorado Review, The Nation, New American Writing, Conjunctions, and other journals. Waldrep lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he teaches at Bucknell University.
from Plague Nights
guessing at its
source. Black moon
in, drinking it up.
A sacrifice of stones
(all these things
as a younger man).
for the cold
in my little room.
My fear of parables.
Things I lifted
a spoon; a dish,
a glass; living twig
of a mountain
azalea, R. canescens.
invert fire &
we are not lonely,
we reflect at will.
in the branches.
Windflower, now you pass
into the quickening theater.
Your surface, a self
among all the not-selves.
I am a counterfeiter, true.
we smelt them from paper.
In the road-cut
the flowers descend
from their former banks
in the electricity
of squander, or so it seems.
They do not recognize
the primes tipping
over into the instant.
They require no annulment.
No broken wings
in the ditch
(I must have dreamed that).
& the descriptive science
of motions, collegiate—
rather than inconsequence.
I pressed my knee against
the sac of the mountain loam
into the stonecrop’s flower.
It was celebrating
something, not me certainly.
Or it was an alarm
to the raw air, a prophetic act
with no one to read it
except for the chickweed
up through which it thrust—
You would think
morning had faced us,
but not so,
morning kept its back turned.
A tautness to the thread
that rises among us
like a medicinal spring
then flows down & away.
Either we are healed
or else we are not healed.
among all kings standing.
After the manner of beasts
I paid my vow
in the place where I recall
That other spring,
when I wore my wound
up & down
the house, & in the valley.
prayer is a poem, a prayer-
poem is a devotional
poem, but no.
The devotional draws us
closer to the divine. I
am drawn but do not speak
the manner of beasts).
This poem is not a speech.
It is a reconnaissance.
I was happy,
then, to bleed, & then
to heal. To recognize this.
I arrive at the azalea’s
I take it into my hands.
though there is no
sense in this, in doing.
seals itself, dimensional.
I would not
have proffered nation.
Or in its place
the veils of matter
in their downward flow.
I count the wounds
receding into memory
where they lay
The severed azalea
still reciting its breviary
notice as they zip past.
It is the feast of Thecla
Also of Dogmael,
Elgar of Bardsey etc. etc.
tuned to what, espalier,
the flame awakening
in turn & then
prophesying the sieve
through which it passes.
in the lee
of the granite outcrop:
nothing is impossible
We wake into valence,
the hostelry we
were provisioned for,
the spirit chastened
amidst the revolution.
Elaine Fowler Palencia: 'Phaeton in Tennessee'; 'His Dreams'; 'A Trick of the Weather'
Elaine Fowler Palencia, Champaign, Illinois, grew up in Morehead, Kentucky, and Cookeville, Tennessee. A Vanderbilt University graduate, she has published four poetry chapbooks and two collections of Appalachian short stories, Small Caucasian Woman and Brier Country. A third short story collection, Riding the Devil’s Bicycle, expands the world of the first two collections. It is wandering around, seeking a publisher. Her most recent book, On Rising Ground: The Life and Civil War Letters of John M. Douthit, 52nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, is a work of history based on thirty letters passed down through her family.
Phaeton in Tennessee
“Suppose you are given the chariot. What will you do?” Jupiter to his son Phaeton, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, A. S. Kline trans.
I’m eight years old
in high summer,
seated with Grandpa
on the jolt wagon,
going to harvest
the mules pulling
smooth and steady,
the royal sun
knighting our shoulders
with the flat
of his shining broadsword,
gives me the reins.
Sensing they are free
of his hard hands
the mules veer for the creek.
We bounce and saw
across the red dirt,
me flying off the seat
as if hit by Zeus’ thunderbolt,
too scared to scream.
Just before we tip
over the bank,
Grandpa grabs the reins,
shouts Whoa, back!
and we slam to a halt.
A crow lifts off
from a cottonwood.
Quiet ripples out
out in all directions.
The mules, tame again,
snuffle up creek water.
Grandpa laughs, slaps his knee.
He has thirteen dwindling years to go,
fewer before he has to rent out his fields,
but we don’t know that.
Just then, he’s the strongest,
grandest, man in the world.
We both feel it in our bones:
the ripple of incarnation.
My daddy would’ve give his farm
to get me an education
but I was the oldest of thirteen.
I went to work.
Worked like killing snakes.
Always liked working with metal.
Always liked working with my hands.
Had a great granddaddy was a gunsmith.
I quit school after eighth grade
and apprenticed to a blacksmith
over on Hot House Creek.
It jerked me out of muleskinning
which it didn’t have no future.
Started shoeing horses.
But even a backwoods boy could see
the railroad was the coming thing.
Smithed in the shops
hammer and tongs.
If only I was still the man
I was at sixty
I’d show you.
Oh, I had dreams.
What man doesn’t?
Joined an industrial league.
Once at Ellijay
it was bottom of the ninth
two strikes and three balls.
Well son I hit that thing into next week
and when I slid into home plate
a five-dollar bill fell on my chest.
“I bet twenty on you, boy,” the man said.
“You could play professional.”
It was something to hold onto.
A Trick of the Weather
Whenever he told the story, which was often,
my father’s voice went soft with awe.
One chilly dawn up Nine Mile Hollow
in West Virginia, he, a half-grown boy,
stepped out of the family farmhouse
and saw that during the night
a freezing fog had turned
the exact top half
of the neighboring hill
leaving the lower half
Just then, from behind him
came his father’s voice:
Cows won’t milk themselves.”
Still my father hesitated,
wanting to show someone
and to share what he was feeling.
Life contains wonders. There is more.
But there was no one to understand, he’d say.
So he knew his future lay elsewhere.
In fact, there were four people to tell
but that would have spoiled his story.
His father, mother, brother, and sister
all had fragile dreams
they too were afraid to share, because
like him, they lived among hills
washed by the black waters
of an unforgiving religion
which taught that physical beauty is suspect,
that the only salvation is hard work,
and that Jesus alone deserves
William Rieppe Moore: 'Duffield, Virginia'; 'Limestone Cove, Tennessee'; 'Getting Back'; '“[I’ll eat anything so long as it’s got wang]”';
William Rieppe Moore is from Richland County, South Carolina and moved to Unicoi County, Tennessee in 2012 with his wife, Cherith, where they practice homesteading and animal husbandry. In May of 2021, he received his MA in English from East Tennessee State University. His work has appeared in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, James Dickey Review, Still: The Journal, Black Moon Magazine, The Mockingbird, and Terrain.org.
This road’s a crow ribbon cut loose
and stiffened to keeled bluffs.
A wooden silo roof wilts
to the ivies arising—grass roots’
green lightning. The hayman figured
his bales but didn’t factor in hail.
So we just drive through the night
down 23, and I swear I hear Mama
sniffle in the milking parlor again,
down on the stool so I can’t see her.
There’s some robin eggs in the cellar,
she tells her. Go’n get you some.
My fists are full of catheads, but
the journey is already over. Now
I can go find the mountain where
beanvines with leaves like anvils
don’t stop spiraling back down
toward the outposts of heaven.
Limestone Cove, Tennessee With no want for computers or their use, Art continues back home, on a four-wheeler on down the mountain road. Like that Scotchee boy with a spiteful penknife doney that pierced him through the heart, I have Art’s hard luck in part: vinetorn between old fields that take speckled corn to spurn a void and ivory halls of books in trees leafin’ out their new greened sheets. Again, I sit and write and work, pullin’ the hoe of my briny hand across the filling page. My shadow falls away from the window, and looks, blackened by the floor,
like a pathway to a door.
These are my sooty hands painted
into ash against the cloudy winter sky
that my Ma and Pa gave to me
that were hands given to them by theirs,
and the knuckles sprout from grooves
like tufts of land from the channels
of water in-field after it’s poured the rain
that was a heaving rain; life heaved
blood in veins which rose to the surface
till the soil would summon gravity’s mercy
getting back the blood again
more and more completely, hustling
this mountain, dandelion-grasses green
before the new leaf of spring.
Ma would say, You have your Papaw’s long fingers,
reaching. They weren’t enough to keep him back
from the bottle after he returned from the war.
Boy he could snort some Crown Royal
so that his fingers shook like used tinfoil
in a windy light.
Pa would say, Do somethin’ with those things,
as if he was apologizing,
while he turned down the furrowed dirt
and walked unevenly with seeded hands
as if he went to his kin, shoulders first,
humming the new words
to a nursery rhyme.
This mountain is a library of information visible
and sensual. It is many mountains made manifest.
If you go under the sign in the stacks for the law
and take a left,
you will hear the Lord’s loud thunder—
the clouds rough-handled chatter
and wonder at the fleeting glyphs of cirrus
from the former days.
“[I’ll eat anything so long as it’s got wang]”
after James Still’s “A Hillsman Speaks”
I’ll eat anything so long as it’s got wang:
creasy greens in the spring to fight off
the pale sleeplessness of winter;
kraut or pickled beans laid by
from the heat of the prior summer
sizzled in the skillet with some ham;
the headier part of moonshine
where the blue flame hides its face
on the tongue’s rear ramp,
But be careful boys, that blue flame
ignites the wet brain till all that’s left
is a slick neuron for a path to the coop,
an enduring appetite where the worm
withers not nor does it seem to die—
a wang ferments the brain without a taste
no delight of briny tart on the tongue,
no memory of youth or the last time
that lye touched your skin; your own kin
will gather around your bed at the hospital
and sing you on down the river
wafarin’ stranger going in a strange body
without wits and not so pretty good;
Honey pie made from the hive that drew
persimmon nectar in June; crawfish from Rocky Fork
clasped in a mountain stream the color of a mica ripple
and furtive to the bone as headwaters descend
to the site of the Last Battle of the State of Franklin;
ramp onions yet unpicked, sown by the wind
along the branches and stumps of water
high on blackberries from the holler by Sugar Loaf
licked by the wind and rain quicker than the fingers
of a banjo player plucking at the strings;
an unpicked Stayman rousting in the breeze
like a lady bug wheeling its hairy feet
hither and yon across a sycamore leaf
with flat white eyes and black spots
that divide and subdivide on the amber wood
of its waxen back; a brook trout hooked
with an elk hair caddis fly, who has an eye
for an eye and a lower lip
holier than a crocheted quilt
that stretches from side to side,
a haphazard map of the places along the creek
that had wounded it.
Sam Campbell: 'Rural Legend No. 5: Here Comes Peter Cottontail'; 'The Necessity for Cover'; 'The People We Meet'
Sam Campbell is a writer, teacher, and editor from Tennessee. She serves Arkansas International as managing editor and she is the fiction editor and co-founder of Black Moon Magazine. She publishes across all genres. Her work appears in October Hill, MORIA, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere. Her awards include, but are not limited to, the 2022 Jesse Stuart Prize for Young Adult Fiction. She is a third-year MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas.
Rural Legend No. 5: Here Comes Peter Cottontail
“The tool that has proved most valuable was the Fairfax County Public Library Historical Newspaper Index.” –archivist Brian Conley in his paper, “The Bunny Man Unmasked: The Real-Life Origins of an Urban Legend
Rabbit carcasses strung from tree limbs
sway in the cool autumn breeze, gutted,
dripping their juices onto the dirt. Father slices
open another, tears meat from bone, feasts.
Easter dresses stained red, dampened
with after-service rain. Four bodies:
wife, three children—two girls, only son—
crucified in sin. Three days pass;
they do not rise.
Wheels grind rock into dust on Virginia
roads. On a Fairfax County prison bus,
Father watches out window, whistles
low a springtime tune. White bunny, eyes bloody,
hops onto Colchester Overpass.
Breaks slam; bus tumbles, and crashes.
No known survivors; one inmate unaccounted for.
Halloween, midnight: teenagers seeking
excitement in rural towns where thrills are found
at the bottom of bootlegged bottles, behind bushes,
in backseats. Broken glass strewn across empty
asphalt; dark shadows loom, reaching from trees;
fire crackles into autumn air, warming skin;
adolescent voices spout urban legends to terrify.
Unbelievable: a man in a bunny suit with an axe.
Father waits. Soon he’ll feed on more than rabbit’s feet.
Carcasses strung from tree limbs
sway in the cool autumn breeze, gutted,
dripping their juices onto the dirt. He slices
open another, tears meat from bone, feasts.
The Necessity for Cover
The baby bird, daughter or son
of the bluebird parents that nest
in my mother’s birdhouse every year,
is sitting on the asphalt with ruffled
feathers, angsty like my ninety-six
teenagers whose graduation was cancelled.
I kept a minimum of six-foot distance
between myself and the fledgling
as I carried armfuls of cloth—
bedsheets, blankets, bathrobes—
out to the garden. The fabric tangled
in the wind, parachuted around me.
I drape an olive-tinted sheet over the stake
of a tomato plant, wonder why
we own hideous laundry the color of vomit.
One by one I tent the plants: a towel
over squash, a pillowcase for cucumber.
Everything about this year is too cold to grow.
The People We Meet
The girl without a teaching certificate
refers to herself “as a teacher” and proceeds
insinuating that I—a certified teacher of six
years—know nothing about how schools “really”
operate. I think of her as a girl not because of her youthfulness,
rather, because of the immaturity I’ve noted:
the way she wrestles the can of beer from her boyfriend’s
hand, the way she talks about social issues—racism,
privilege, sexual assault—as if she is wise
and you are a sinner. Repent! her arched eyebrows
seem to say. Repent!
The man interrupts me before I finish speaking,
explaining that China is too dangerous to travel.
Having never been, he is an expert. I judge: racist.
Wrong. He expands the “Danger Zone” to include:
New York, L.A., London, Mexico, Italy, Utah—
anywhere that isn’t here, isn’t his hometown.
I correct myself, re-judge: smalltownist.
Speedwell, my own small not-even-a-town,
population too low to count. Stay! his clenched
jaw seems to say. Stay!
The nurse practitioner liked to play doctor,
scribbling notes, rushing in and spending
fifteen minutes with me. “What’s wrong?”
“Sinus infection—get one every year.”
My diagnosis does not suffice. Tests
strep and flu before he diagnosis
“Looks like you have a sinus infection.”
Hold back contempt. No duh, Sherlock.
Still, he refuses to prescribe the antibiotic
cure. “It can cause infertility” he recites.
Despite my nonexistent desire for children,
I leave without medicine, balloon-head
reeling. Bear! The curt nod of his buzzcut
head seemed to say. Bear!
The three would-be girlfriends disappear.
What once was daily texts, late-night
gossip over Rosè, early morning walks,
and the intense feeling of belonging—
“I love you, girl!” and “I’ve got your back.”—
left is nothing more than unanswered
messages, eerie silence, and the lurking
suspicion the group hasn’t dissolved.
Only I have been voted off. Run
through every moment, every word.
Question everything: Did I say the wrong
opinion on politics, feminism, environment?
Did I appear too eager? Not eager enough?
Should I have hidden my successes,
made myself small so they could feel strong?
We never liked you! their silence
seems to say. We never liked you at all.