The poetry corner of Appalachian Places takes an expansive view of Highland places this installment with three radiant poems that celebrate new beginnings and distant ancestors in Glenelg, Scotland, from Jonathan Johnson, who joins us by way of northern Michigan and eastern Washington. Tony Reevy follows with a taste of North Carolina orchards and memories from the kind of country store rarely found today. Beth Copeland gives us two poems of feeling attuned with the peaks around us and with the spirit of Greta Garbo, the significance of names lost to the ages and names kept secret from us. We close this installment with five new poems in the original Spanish by ETSU’s own Isabel Gómez Sobrino, alongside translations into English by ETSU’s own Matthew Fehskens. Gómez Sobrino’s poems invite readers to consider the seen and the unseen, the sounds of our lives as well as the silences. We hope all these inspiring poems take our readers along the horizons of our many Appalachian places, at home and abroad.
Jonathan Johnson: “Glenelg Wedding Eve,” “Glenelg Epithalamium,” “Ancestry on Glenelg Bay”
Jonathan Johnson’s most recent books are May Is an Island (poetry, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2018) and The Desk on the Sea (memoir, Wayne State University Press, 2019). He teaches in the MFA program at Eastern Washington University and migrates annually to his ancestral village of Glenelg on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands where his cousins are crofters.
Glenelg Wedding Eve
Seaward, night’s tide has risen already
over the island’s mountains into mist
that comes down from and over everything
through which smoke and music must ascend.
A chorus of laughter. The Sound of Sleat
blackens early into late-October evening
out the inn’s fogged windows. From Skye’s
unpeopled slopes two miles offshore,
this village must be a wee constellation
of close, amber stars. Between darknesses,
this fireside chair deepens warm and a guitar
blurs faster, faster to lift the voices climbing
the spin behind…
Inland, upriver to the wild
top of the glen, far above the last light,
there’s no lock on the only door. No one within.
Bricks of peat stacked beside the silent hearth
even now, always. That shepherdless cottage
teaches patience for patience. The nature of love
from its cool, unseen, and ancient stone.
Believe for a moment her ancestors
led him here, up the winding track that climbs
above Loch Duich through night-deep forest
to the open view at Ratagan Pass of this glen,
summits of rock and early snow, parabolas
of moorland and woods down to the Glen More’s
bending silver through pastures to Riverfoot
and the sea. Believe those ancestors
were in the breeze when, working, he would see
her clatter shut a gate and walk through tall grass
to trade a few soft words with him.
Believe in the centuries of names that turned
to rain moving in from the Sound of Sleat
across the slopes to wet the windscreen
with their voices and join him and her
where they parked to speak of their future.
Believe this story their love tells is as new
and ancient as each year’s heather bloom.
When she shuts a ledger and starts her car
somewhere on Skye, say, and he loads the ladders
and drives west from Cluanie, believe others
who knew the road’s every bend close the distance
between. Believe all the loves lived in this glen
were, always, leading us here, to this day,
to this love. Believe the warm light
of their window will shine out through the fields
and forests and mountains of night
like a beacon, a star, guiding the past home.
—For Cousins Jonathan and Megan
Ancestry on Glenelg Bay
The gate to the kirkyard beside the sea
remains unlocked. Swings rusty. Most of the stones
stand as no more than stones again, blessings,
dates, and names gone to lichen, rain, and wind.
No one comes for anyone here anymore.
The last of their visitors has long gone
to the new cemetery north of the Glen More.
There, brides still lay bouquets on grans’ firm lawns,
and already the elms have grown broad shade
inland from open gales. There, smooth granite
enunciates each of the erasures delayed
in sharp-etched dates and prayers enameled white.
While here, with steps the sea-wet sod inters,
one remembers not who but that they were.
Tony Reevy: “Daniel at the Store,” “Wilding Apples,” “The Hunger Moon”
Tony Reevy’s previous publications include poetry, non-fiction and short fiction, including the non-fiction books Ghost Train!, O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line, The Railroad Photography of Jack Delano and The Railroad Photography of Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, and the full books of poetry, Old North, Passage, and Socorro.
Daniel at the Store
A bend in the road
to Salisbury and the west
leads thoughts arrow-straight
past the store porch.
And, at the fire, men telling
bear wolf panther Indian tales.
What’s past that last
town? A gap in the mountains
on a passage to China . . .
The boy runs outside,
grabs a stick, takes a bead
on bear wolf panther Indian—
always shooting compass west.
by the trail—
with rotten orbs
swarmed by yellow jackets.
Fruit on the boughs
and a tad bitter.
A sweet break
from the hike.
Eighty years gone,
takes a box lunch,
coffee in coke bottles,
for their big-town trip
a well-bitten core
off here. It hits
the bare ground
as the slow train
The Hunger Moon
rises over Balsam’s ridge—
stark, clean white
marred by charcoal patches.
Best to have laid in
canned goods, ham,
salt beef and pork.
The improvident father,
toes spilling from slit boots
trudges in the snow
to beg food
A rifle crack—
maybe a deer hunter.
above the mountain,
seems to wane
Beth Copeland: “Renaming the Mountain,”“The Mountain is My Mood Ring—with Greta Garbo”
Beth Copeland is the author of Selfie with Cherry (Glass Lyre Press, 2022), Blue Honey, 2017 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize winner; Transcendental Telemarketer (BlazeVOX, 2012); and Traveling through Glass, 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award winner. She owns and operates Tiny Cabin, Big Ideas™, a retreat for writers in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Renaming the Mountain
“The Peak” is too generic, a name that could refer to any mountain,
words unworthy of this sacred summit, the highest in Ashe County.
No doubt, it’s had other names, unknown, given by the Cherokee,
Creek, and Shawnee, who owned this land long before I settled here,
a name trilled in a songbird’s syrinx or dropped as seed from a crow’s
beak onto its slopes, a name the wind whispers through leaves
of tulip trees and tupelos, an unspoken Appalachian appellation.
Other mountains in the county have more poetic names—Phoenix
Mountain, Queen Ridge, Rattlesnake, Meditation, Green Cove, Catface.
Why not name it after flowers—Mountain Angelica, Larkspur, Trillium?
I could name it Forgiveness Mountain or Grace, for my grandmother
who died of a stroke as I floated in my mother’s body, unborn. What’s
your secret name? I ask. Is it carved in ancient petroglyphs on stone?
Unmoved, the mountain mutters, If I told you, everyone would know.
The Mountain is My Mood Ring—with Greta Garbo
The Peak is peakless this morning, the top of its cone
chopped off by stratus clouds, making the mountain
more mesa than mound, and I feel as if my head’s
cut off, too, my thoughts untethered in time, as if
the mountain’s a mood ring, its cabochon dome
changing from anxious amber to neutral green to
serenity blue until the stone turns black. I don’t need
a mood ring to tell me I’m relaxed, nerve-wracked,
or depressed, but the mountain surprises me each day
with new shafts of sunlight or clouds—cirrus, stratus,
cumulus—changing from myrtle to smoke to aubergine.
Sometimes it hides behind a valance of clouds, as I do
when I putter around the house in pajamas and slippers,
Garbo-style, in stubborn solitude. We’re so simpatico,
The Peak and I, that sometimes I’m not sure what I feel
and what’s the mountain’s mood du jour. I measure
my moods in shark-shaped shadows cast on the slope
limned in afternoon light, in cantaloupe clouds at sunrise.
When the mountain sleeps, I sleep. When I wake,
I greet its granite face with love and gratitude.
Isabel Gómez Sobrino untitled poems translated by Matthew Fehskens
Isabel Gómez Sobrino is Associate Professor of Spanish at East Tennessee State University. She has published original poems in journals such as Letras Femeninas (now called REGS) and Furman217 and is the author of the bilingual collection of poetry, Whispering Ashes. Isabel’s research interests are adaptation and performance studies, women writers and translation – interests which have resulted in works on adapted poetry into songs with a revolutionary agenda and the epistolary discourse of female poets in Spain in the 1920s.
Matthew Fehskens is an active scholar of Hispanic Modernism, a translator, and an author of short stories. His research focuses on the transatlantic dimension of Literary Modernism in Spanish. He is presently finishing a study of the prophetic discourse in Spanish and Spanish-American poets, titled Towers of God: The Vates Poets of Hispanic Modernism. Matthew is Associate Professor at East Tennessee State University where he makes his home in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Una hoja se pinta en el cielo
Yo que un día
y me iré
¿lo haré con la misma paz que esta hoja
que le brinda un baile al viento?
¿o estaré aterrorizada por el hueco misterio?
Un silencio inerte
de un cuerpo caído.
A leaf paints itself onto the sky
I who will one day
and I shall go
Will I fall with the same peace as this leaf
that surrenders itself to the wind for a dance?
Or will I fall aghast at the mysterious chasm?
of a fallen body.
Se ha enjaulado el mundo
en estos días de luto,
de no poder extender mis brazos
a tus gritos.
Si pudiera abarcar en mi mano el mundo
para arroparlo con un manto azul y verde
y detenerme un segundo y contemplarlo…
Pero esta noche me presentas este cielo enjaulado.
Se ha enjaulado mi risa
y esquivo besos enjaulados de ternura y cansancio.
Cómo detenerte entre paredes borrosas
que enmascaran nublados recuerdos.
Los pájaros no tienen alas
y el vuelo se hace imposible.
In these days of mourning
the world has gone into a cage
unable to stretch out my arms
as far as your cries.
If I could fit the world in my hand
to tuck it into a blue and green blanket
and tarry a moment to watch it…
But tonight you give me this caged heaven.
My laughter has been caged
and I shy from the caged kisses of tenderness and weariness.
How might one detain you between indistinct walls
that mask hazy memories.
The birds are wingless
and flight has become impossible.
Gritos desairados mueven mis brazos.
Un inexplicable pensamiento me posee.
Duele el llanto pintado de deseo.
Ascender es imposible.
Los sueños se deshacen
y partidos descansan en mi memoria.
Quiero doblar la esquina
y encontrarme arrimada a la pared.
La memoria se enternece con el tiempo.
La rugosidad de tus palabras
se pule con el perdón
y el olvido se posa en el después.
My arms are moved by unheard shouting.
I am possessed by an unexplainable thought.
The weeping of desire aches.
Ascent is impossible.
Dreams come apart
and rent asunder, repose in my memory.
Torn to pieces.
I want to turn the corner
and find myself up against the wall.
Memories grow kinder with time.
The roughness of your words
is worn down with forgiveness.
And forgetfulness alights on the after.
Con los ojos ensombrecidos,
las manos secas
y los pies derrotados,
miro este pedazo de vida que ha salido de mí.
observo sus pies recogidos,
sus manos que torpes se acercan a su cara.
busco en sus mejillas un poco de mí,
un gesto conocido.
tardo un poco en sentirte,
tú que bailabas dentro de mí.
en conectar mis entrañas con tus lloros
y entregarme a tu desvelada calma.
With crestfallen eyes
and defeated feet
I look on this piece of life that came from me.
I observe her curled-up feet
her hands that clumsily struggle towards her face.
I look for a bit of myself in her cheeks
an identifying expression.
it takes me a while to feel you
you who danced daily within me.
It takes me a while
to join my womb to your cries
and surrender to your restless calm.
callada, empobreciendo mis pensamientos con silencio al principio forzado, luego, rutinario.
Soñaba sonidos perspicaces, a veces, ingeniosos, otras.
aguardaba ahí callada,
esperando tus palabras.
Encontré unos labios encendidos y ciegos.
Como un sofocante viento te apresurabas a mí.
No me eran suficientes unas manos astutas que supieran enrojecer mis mejillas
ni unos besos impacientes e insatisfechos.
Te enfriaste a los pocos días
y quedamos mudos los dos,
Dije poco cuando te fuiste.
Me quedé, de nuevo,
I grew up shutting up
impoverishing my thoughts with a silence that, though at first imposed,
later became routine.
At times I dreamed up
clever noises, other times
I hoped there in silence,
awaiting your words.
I found some lips lit on fire and blinded.
You rushed on me like a stifling wind.
A pair of clever hands that were able to redden my cheeks were insufficient
As were the impatient and unsatisfied kisses.
After a few days you went cold
and we both went
I didn’t say much when you left.
There I was, shut up,