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Poetry by Jonathan Johnson, Tony Reevy, Beth Copeland and Isabel Gómez Sobrino


Photo by Ben Bateson

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.


Glenelg Epithalamium

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.


Wilding Apples

Solitary tree

by the trail—

ground mounded

with rotten orbs

swarmed by yellow jackets.

Fruit on the boughs

still good—

if brown-spotted

and a tad bitter.

A sweet break

from the hike.

Eighty years gone,

the family

takes a box lunch,

coffee in coke bottles,

for their big-town trip

to Abingdon.

Caleb throws

a well-bitten core

off here. It hits

the bare ground

as the slow train

chuffs away.


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

from neighbors.

A rifle crack—

maybe a deer hunter.

Night deepens.

Luna rises

above the mountain,

seems to wane

in clear,

bone-

cold sky.


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.



Untitled 1


Una hoja se pinta en el cielo

y desciende

lenta,

en silencio

y sola.

Yo que un día

desapareceré

lenta

y me iré

en silencio

y sola,

¿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

and falls

slowly

in silence

and alone.

I who will one day

disappear

slowly

and I shall go

in silence

and alone,

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?

Motionless silence

of a fallen body.




Untitled 2


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.




Untitled 3


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.

Despedazados.

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.




Untitled 4


Con los ojos ensombrecidos,

las manos secas

y los pies derrotados,

miro este pedazo de vida que ha salido de mí.

Temblando

observo sus pies recogidos,

sus manos que torpes se acercan a su cara.

Sonriendo

busco en sus mejillas un poco de mí,

un gesto conocido.

Sin embargo

tardo un poco en sentirte,

tú que bailabas dentro de mí.

Tardo

en conectar mis entrañas con tus lloros

y entregarme a tu desvelada calma.


With crestfallen eyes

dry hands

and defeated feet

I look on this piece of life that came from me.

Trembling

I observe her curled-up feet

her hands that clumsily struggle towards her face.

Smiling

I look for a bit of myself in her cheeks

an identifying expression.

However

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.




Untitled 5


Crecí callándome

callada, empobreciendo mis pensamientos con silencio al principio forzado, luego, rutinario.

Soñaba sonidos perspicaces, a veces, ingeniosos, otras.

Sin embargo,

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,

vacíos.

Dije poco cuando te fuiste.

Me quedé, de nuevo,

callada.


I grew up shutting up

silent,

impoverishing my thoughts with a silence that, though at first imposed,

later became routine.

At times I dreamed up

clever noises, other times

witty noises.

However

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

mute,

empty.

I didn’t say much when you left.

There I was, shut up,

once again.

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