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Poetry by Ian Hall, Stacey Lounsberry, Mitzi Dorton, Frederick Wilbur, and Marc Harshman

Poets love the later days of spring and the early days of summer. We love the wildflowers and the leaf-sprouts that shake us from our rain-shower-induced melancholy, though we all know that’s the best weather for writing new poems. This is the season of abundance, and our Poet’s Table runneth over at Appalachian Places, as we introduce a couple of promising young writers from eastern Kentucky, Ian Hall from Raven and Stacey Lounsberry from Greenup. We have poems of memory and the close connections of family and place from Kingsport, Tennessee, native Mitzi Dorton and Lovingston, Virginia, poet Frederick Wilbur. We close this literary ramble over “curious hills” with a delight-inducing set of new poems from recent West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman. Before we jump into poems, I would like to say a heartfelt thanks to a crew of graduate student assistants from the East Tennessee State University Department of Literature & Language — Erika Perez Cortazar, Jake Lawson, and Tanner Linkous — who have helped me keep track of submissions, proof-reading, deadlines, so many things! The best part of my job is working with such talented and capable students, all three excellent poets in their own rights. Onward and upward into poetry!


—   Jesse Graves, Appalachian Places poetry editor




Ian Hall: ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’; ‘Psalm to be Spoken Inside a Hill’s Ribcage, Where the Heart Ought Be’


Ian Hall was born and reared in Eastern Kentucky. His work is featured in Narrative, Mississippi Review, The Journal, and elsewhere.



Every Day is Like Sunday


God always speaks to me

like hot grease


on a blouse. Sudden

enough to murmur


the heart. When I’m at the stove, worrying

over breakfast, & the whites of the eggs run


into something that resembles his son’s

fuming tunic. & later, when I’m up to my goof


bone in a sink

chatty with dishes, the soapcurds going in


tender disbelief over my hands

like Thomas. He’s there in the family


room, in the ignorant

parboil of noon, the TV turned on


a local-access fishing show, when I’m folding

laundry. When I’m liable to nurture


a quiet, ladylike spite

for my two sons & husband — who has the horsepower


of a floor mop — sawing logs. He’s there when I’m ruing

all the dewy choices


I made in girlhood. I don’t know

where he’ll be when I’m going through this whole


rigmarole again for the sake

of their lunch & supper. When bitterness settles in me


like buzzards in a treetop. & he’ll be lost

to me still tomorrow morning, in the grocery


store parking lot when the car won’t start, the sun

on me like acetylene, & it’s two hours


till I can get a stranger to give a jump

that doesn’t take. & after, when I go to the bank


& clean out our account & it’s just enough

to pay the tow truck driver


& shiftless repairman, I like to think

he’ll at least be there


to damn the moneychangers. I like to think it’s him

making himself known


on my way home, when every pothole I hit

is shaped like a heart.



Psalm to be Spoken Inside a Hill’s Ribcage, Where the Heart Ought Be


All hours, they are clomping through sluice

that’s shoe-mouth deep. & with them totemic the little lilies


of blister & slough floating

Zen in their boots. But getting from A to B, coal vein to conveyor, on feet


turned Styrofoam is the measliest of their worries. There are cairns down here

that an Egyptologist couldn’t excavate, let alone those cardboard cutouts


at OSHA. & there’re whole wiffleball rosters of men who one dawn jittered into the gall

bile of this mine & come quitting-dark never surfaced. Gone so long their common


law spouse is named Rubble. & behind they leave women whose only recompense is a company

ham each Christmas, some tattered & hand-me-down


condolences from the foreman when he chances by

that house with the gutters ramshackling off


like a ’70’s hairdo — a litter of children, all runts, in the yard pretending

that the cornpone & Crisco they’re jawing on are smooches


of Hershey. But this crew is extant, swinging mattics. For quorum

there’s the nerve-doping jar, biceps fuzzy as bad analog, of bladepeaks clacking


against bubonic zinc. Only trace amounts of that chewy idiom. Mostly men looking old

testament at each other. Like that water torture they’re doing


dissertations on in the Orient, the stalactites slobber on them

immemorial. Gloveless, their palms are fractal & cratered


as bold moons. They’ll soldier on like this, artisans of the callous, till it’s time to leave

things for the mausoleum shift, who’ll probably be damned as well


to ascend into the unhomely

brine of 6 a.m. Truly, what necromances these men


off their scrawny bedsteads each morning, takes them down

into the daggerish pitch? I’ll flat tell you: it’s the chirp


of eggs in a skillet, mothers bitching

into their toddler’s earache. Homespun quilts


of gravy on your catheads. A pup neurasthenic from table skimmings. That leisurely

poached cabbage smell


of thrombosis stockings airing out over every vent. The jaundiced newborn

put to candy in blunt sun. & each does it


for the other, of course: that miner beside him

made Dalmatian by coal spume. Even Levon — the Armenian who fled


Ataturk’s malignant pen — always beaming lopsided & saying how

do you are? Brought-on or not, they respect him because he works


like Hephaestus. Heaping coal & never once begging

off because gahdamn I tweaked my shit-chute or my good lung


is a mummied fig. Above ground, they rib him for the hifalutin

beading on his skull cap, the baklava in his lunch pail. They take


as sacrosanct his Istanbul yarns. Listen cross-legged like schoolchaps. They all laugh

out black chaff at his mimings of them, their puzzling diction. They have him over


for supper & for their fidgety kids

he is Kubla Khan, scimitar up, loping into Damascus. He plays


a mean horselord. Even the parents — puddled into wicker

rocking chairs, worn clean out — can’t conquer a grin. & that rarefied smile


of Levon’s is chronic. Underground, even. & in a year when they find him

whey-faced from too much methane, he’ll still be grinning


neon & neighborly as a vacancy sign. For now though, things are just

so. Down there, it’s dim enough that the miners have all learned to see


in sepia. To not wallop each other in the teeth

chattering sanguine. But occasionally Levon, pale as a geisha, steps into the pilsner


of another’s headlamp

& nods.


Stacey Lounsberry: ‘Sleeping through the Southern Winter’; ‘While You Were Grieving’


Stacey Lounsberry received a BFA in Creative Writing from Morehead State University and an MAT in Special Education from the University of the Cumberlands. She is a full-time mother and writer, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Writing in a Woman’s VoiceAriel ChartThe First Line, CafeLit and others. Her poem received an honorable mention in the 2007 Sarabande Books Poetry Contest. She is seeking representation for her recently completed middle grades chapter series. She lives in Eastern Kentucky with her husband and two young sons.                                                                                      



Sleeping through the Southern Winter


The top layer is my mother's quilt,

Its dimpled, silk flowers like skintags,

Splintered threads pointing up,

Reeds in a wrinkled pond.

How I miss the fat sponge cake swing

That romped beneath her praise-God arms.


The second is my aunt’s,

Bound with only crooked, worn hands

While someone painted her likeness

To hang behind a beige factory-store matting

On my white wall several decades later.

Sometimes her head breaks from the acrylic clumps

To grimace when I add white sugar to my cornbread.


But the layer that touches my skin,

Which rubs against the cold prickled hair standing

Up on my legs, the rough cloth not yet washed

Enough to soften, still soaked in the pesticide

Or formaldehyde

Or femicide

They use at the chain store factory,

Is my own. I guess,


While You Were Grieving


Mama, we skirted the rocky side of the ridge,

Each of our four dirt bikes consuming the quiet

Of the night like an indelible feast.

Your coven of girls, can you imagine?

Dirt-tipped manicures and mud-dropped

Beauty marks. We forgot in the woods

The empire of man.

In a lazy mess of leaves we laid, your Sarah

Syphoning gasoline from my bike to hers,

Your Julie braiding back Bri’s hair and

Your Bri spinning devilish stories, Oh Mama

You would have smiled

If you had been there.



Mitzi Dorton: ‘The Ancestral Voices of Autumn’; ‘I Am the Keeper of Your Stories’


Mitzi Dorton is author of the book, Chief Corn Tassel, Finishing Line Press, Literary Global Book Award finalist in history/biography. A multi-genre writer, her poetry appears in Rattle/Appalachian Poets, SEMO Press, Poetry South,Women Speak: Women of Appalachia Project, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel and others. 



The Ancestral Voices of Autumn                                                   


Leave the leaves. They nourish the ground,

I hear the voices that echo from the old-timers,

She acquaints me in this way,

Sharing the walk, through woods of her girlhood haunts,

Finding buckeyes for good luck on the downward trail,

Like an Easter egg hunt among yellow leaves


On tree-lined streets of my childhood,

The advent of maple-red,

Melding orange,


Crisp, crunchy on sidewalks,

As we slosh forward.

She shares stories,

Ensuring I know where we've been.



I Am the Keeper of Your Stories                                       


I am the keeper of your stories, Mama,


What stories? she struggles to say,


Oh, that time when

The string from your bloomers untied

And you had to hold them up

While walking home with a boy!


She has almost forgotten everything,

Her shared secrets

It’s mostly me talking

But we are both laughing


She closes her eyes

As if to say

She wants to feel the moment

The way we do when we savor

This scooting in, mother and daughter,

To grasp the last of everything.



Frederick Wilbur: ‘View from Elliewood Avenue: a meditation’; ‘Monarch’


Frederick Wilbur’s poetry collections are As Pus Floats the Splinter Out (Kelsay Press) and Conjugation of Perhaps (Main Street Rag Publishing, Inc). His work has appeared in The Comstock Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, New Verse News, One Art: a journal of poetry, Shenandoah. He is co-editor of poetry for Streetlight Magazine. He was awarded the Stephen Meats Poetry Prize by Midwest Quarterly in 2018.



View from Elliewood Avenue: a meditation


Through rain-ragged window,

we gaze toward railroad tracks that foretell

a train’s appearance, toward warehouses

grungy with vacancy. Dust on the chessboard,

dog in the doorway, dawn opens

like a book with the cadence of promise.

She stands naked in a white sheet, living marble,

quilted flowers left in confusion on the bed;

the glorious unsaid unsaid like the sun

we know is there behind the scribbles of love.

Black birds jockey on wires as visible music,

but coal cars, filigreed by aerosol artists,

will frighten those ersatz angels to flight.

And our messages to the world will not circle back

except as another day’s literary lint.

Dreams scamper to their day-jobs,

coffee fills the room, current scones are timed out,

and for all today’s horrible news, we do not presume

a yellow caboose will trail our accomplishments,

nor will wings lift us from our grounding,

toward some blessing we do not seek or need.





I pull my fluttering pick-up into Payne’s Garage

for its obvious need, a stronger sparking.


A wounded butterfly falls from crinkling grill

as an orange flame, autumn omen.


Entering oily darkness, the oldy-goldy, King of the Road,

dances jocular above the cuss of ratchets and wrenches.


They say my sufferings are mechanical.

 My word-worn body and rusty chariot have conquered


a dozen epic highways, our fame trailing

like bark shards from a tractor-trailer load of pine logs.


Restored— a new set of plugs, a tweak or two,

a paycheck poorer— and we’re on our way again.


I place those quivering wings on the dashboard

as our Buddha, our compass. As humble


travelers of this world’s beckoning, we renounce

the Self’s desire, find peace where we find ourselves.


In twilight, we ease southwest down Route 151

toward the river we must cross to enter another realm.





Marc Harshman’s Woman in Red Anorak (Lynx House Press) won the Blue Lynx Prize. His 14th children’s book, Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece, (co-author, Anna Egan Smucker) was published by Roaring Brook / Macmillan and named an Amazon Book of the Month. He is co-winner of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and his poem, “Dispatch from the Mountain State,” was printed in the 2020 Thanksgiving edition of the New York Times. A previous volume, Believe What You Can, (Vandalia Press/WVU) won the Weatherford Award. His most recent publication is Dark Hills of Home published by Monongahela Books in 2022 to celebrate his 10th anniversary as Poet Laureate of West Virginia. He has recently been commissioned to write a poem celebrating the 40th anniversary of NPR’s Mountain Stage. His fourth full-length collection, Following the Silence, recently appeared from Press 53 of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  





White peonies border the stones of the old foundation.

At the edge of the meadow peacocks fan light

            into small rainbows of flame.

You listen for the soft step of a bear,

            the black paws’ chuff upon the leaf litter.

An old road closes its arms around the forgotten,

fallow fields.

Your brother will return from there in the chiffon silence

            of the afterlife, wrap you in a reassurance

            unavailable from any altar.

And here, where the sun slips into the tangle of forest,

            a barred owl is singing for his supper as he always does

            with a question much like your own.

Who’ll cook for you, who’ll cook for you, who’ll cook for you?





I was reading the lawn where it rose

            below the wind-flicker

            of shadowing leaves, reading

            for the news, and

found it was singular

as the best news often is.


There was a spider, not at home, but

            through its web, present,

and within which could be

seen a bleb of the sun

            caught inside the dew

            threaded just so

along the falling light.


And beyond the light a woodpecker hidden

            but with its resonant sounding board

            I could find my way to it

without any need

            of looking for anything more

            than this one foot in front of the other.


Where I hadn’t thought to look and

            what I hadn’t thought to see,

            let alone name, was applause:

            the applause of the long-necked mullein

            and ragweed, the insidious wild garlic

            and nettles whose whiskery,

            breeze-driven ovation             was unexpected

            and undeserved.


These, then, I decided were more of the news

            for which I’d been looking, another

new thing, singular

            among the many and

            enough to be just that,






Despite the poor wages and the decline

            in morale, we kicked up our heels

            and stomped like there was better music

            than an upright and a limp tambourine.

You’d done a balloon and your smile was going

            green and soon Frank would be ready

            to climb walls with the fierce abandon

            of the already doomed.

We’ve been convinced for years there was no way out

            but still some nights believe spring’s somewhere

            in the progression of days, that there could be

            Mendelssohn, there could be Frühlingslied

            what a lazy dance of tears that would be!

But, no, what time there is shall be danced tonight

            with our own familiar drunks, and the jukebox

            when the piano dies, and the sharp crack

            of dead soldiers sparkling in the back lot

            of Roy’s Rod & Gun Club will provide

            ambience, and ambivalence about it all

            will not stop our dancing for ours shall be

            a dance we dance all the way

            into the amazed morning that slips

            her rose-colored petticoats over the cold

            rocks of mountains who surrendered long ago

            and from whom we are only just now learning

            to do the same knowing the stern master

will yet join us, lead our dancing in that long line

leads away from dawn into a night

where the gray rains of oblivion outlive us all.



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