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Poetry by G.C. Waldrep, Elaine Fowler Palencia, William Rieppe Moore and Sam Campbell

Photo by Ben Bateson

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


Descending motion,

the Watauga

guessing at its

source. Black moon

drinking it

in, drinking it up.

A sacrifice of stones

(all these things

are accidents,

wrote Merton

as a younger man).

I search

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,


of poverties

we reflect at will.


is alive

in the branches.

A consummation.


Windflower, now you pass

from me

into the quickening theater.

Your surface, a self

among all the not-selves.

I am a counterfeiter, true.

Self, selves,

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—

They gleam

transversely, contingency

rather than inconsequence.


I pressed my knee against

the sac of the mountain loam

& peered

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

of borders,

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

spiderwort blooming

(Tridescantia virginiana).

That other spring,

when I wore my wound

up & down

the house, & in the valley.

Someone says

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

(again, after

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

mutilated creche

I take it into my hands.

I murmur

though there is no

sense in this, in doing.

Prayer applied

to surfaces

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

their eggs.

The severed azalea

still reciting its breviary

the hummingbirds

notice as they zip past.

It is the feast of Thecla

whose works

remain hidden.

Also of Dogmael,

Elgar of Bardsey etc. etc.

Deciduous faiths.

Every day

a concrescence

tuned to what, espalier,

the flame awakening

in turn & then

prophesying the sieve

through which it passes.


Phacelia bipinnatifida

in the lee

of the granite outcrop:

nothing is impossible


We wake into valence,

the hostelry we

were provisioned for,

the spirit chastened

& replenished

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,

when Grandpa

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.

His Dreams

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.

And fire.

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

bases loaded

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.

Then. Now.

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

crystal white,

leaving the lower half

winter green.

Just then, from behind him

came his father’s voice:

“Quit lollygagging.

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

unconditional love.

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

Duffield, Virginia

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.

Getting Back

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.


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