Poetry by Micah Daniel McCrotty, Linda Parsons, and Rita Sims Quillen


Photo by Ben Bateson

This installment of Appalachian Places welcomes the authentic voices of poets both new and long-treasured. Readers of Now & Then Magazine will need no introduction to Rita Sims Quillen, who served on the original Board of Directors, or to Linda Parsons, who worked for many years as the magazine’s poetry editor. It is a special pleasure to share their luminous poems alongside one of the most promising of younger Appalachian poets, Micah Daniel McCrotty. Readers may notice some common attentions in these poems, close listening to the songs of birds and moving water, care for the way we interact with nature, and a deep investment in memory and the saving grace it offers us.


Micah Daniel McCrotty: “Brumation”, “Second Sentence”, “Regulation”


Micah Daniel McCrotty lives in Knoxville Tennessee with his wife Katherine. His poetry has previously appeared in Louisiana Literature, Storm Cellar, Still: The Journal, Sycamore Review, and the James Dickey Review among others.


Brumation

A petrified river of scree, a stone current

tumbling grey out of the mountain,

sloughed-off folds scarring ash-toned

sides of dry dells, the site of collapse

rippling out into timorous gorges.

This waterfall of rock records the hill’s

first history, deep pools of simmering

quartz a journal of gradual decay below

cascades. Timber rattlers gather in

hibernacula between boulder foliage

to amass like eddies of the air’s flotsam,

leaves their seasonal bed of brumation,

overwinter eyes watchful while frigid

coils simmer a crevice of living.

They remain attuned to the hum before

a great collapse, shiftings of sand

from under flanks of ridge-bank,

another shuddering exterior cleaved

through the tail of valley. But still

they wait without rattle or strike,

stagnant testaments to the ability

of the living to take on the temperature

and color of inhabited soil.

Second Sentence

The way some tell it, Willie never pined

for his wife Amanda, or called out

during sentencing, but accepted just doom

for blowing ribs out the backside

of Tom Gilbraith’s body from close range.

Instead, he bid his mother and sister Donna

farewell, kissed his new bride, then began

to weep for fear of never again seeing

the beautiful green hills of East Tennessee.

But Amanda heard the clap and laughter

in the streets of Kingston, crowds calling,

confident as coyotes come yipping

into the yard. Soft green hills reflected

pale light back into her face, an etching

of horizon, castled peaks drawing

drizzles of rain through its innards.

She had wept, always knowing conviction

meant the banks of ol’ Cumberland

would capture and hold her until

Willie’s burial some 40 years hence.

Regulation

When generation first filled the river,

blackeyed spotted summer gar chased banished

warmth, laid along scummy side channels on

the backsides of small islands or shallow

film-heavy sand coves to soak in sunlight

against the wide edge of air and water.

Retaining temperatures of departure,

the river’s new push emptied from black-mud

lake bottom. Unwilling to revisit

deeper channels until the last harbors

of heat gave out, needle-nose jostled gourd-

head while carp fled towards sludge banks and drainage

inlets, saddlebag skimmers perched on

exposed spines like drowned timber. In a passing

boat two fishermen spotted wordless slack

jaws agape and cast waxlines at basking

schools, brown shapes which sought a semblance of

older order amid floating debris

and flecks of nutrition, crosscurrent drift

bits from other scattered places filtered

into the eroded waters of their home.


Linda Parsons: “Worry Stone”, “Why I Write about Eggs”, “All Night, All Day”, “Glimmer Trail”, “Visitation: Necessary”


Poet, playwright, and editor, Linda Parsons is the poetry editor for Madville Publishing and the copy editor for Chapter 16, the literary website of Humanities Tennessee. Linda is published in such journals as The Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and Shenandoah. Her fifth poetry collection is Candescent (Iris Press, 2019). She served as Now & Then’s poetry editor for 13 years (1996-2009).

Worry Stone

Through pink clover and tickseed, this stone

I bring to the mudbank of the fast-moving

Garonne. Stone brought from Tennessee,

a world away—the lone honeybee, tickseed

and clover profuse at my feet. What stone

can carry worldly worries set down in mud

and debris? What travels made light

by bridge arcing past, the alone clacking

of trains? Mud and debris carry loss

unseen, memory’s rivered tug and reprieve,

muck where jon boats put in. Worries

snag before rushing past, this veined stone

put in, brought miles in my bag over the sea,

my lone thought to see worries swift carried

away, to see what rises, gift or pure light of time,

from the deep Garonne’s muddy sway.

Why I Write about Eggs

Again on the stool at my grandmother’s

vanity, round mirror sunlike, she cracks

an egg on my head, or so it feels as she braids

my hair, and I give in to the flow, her goodness

rooted behind me, right leg thick with phlebitis—

or is the flow grace, that highest love both

prickly ground and far horizon, thinnest skin

between white and shell called the bloom.

Long I sit in the memory of those Saturdays,

of not wanting to return to my mother. I hold

the oval of her brokenness to the light, veined

at the boiling point, tiny explosions ripe

for kintsugi, the molten past I stir and pour

over our crazed misunderstandings—

the egg, reborn, tossed one palm

to the other, still mad hot with time.

All Night, All Day

for my Earth Angels

Even at twelve, some of us had walked

on stones sharper than this, already mired

in the muddy lakebottom called childhood.

Our feet held to the coals of robbery

and circumstance, though we called it life

as we knew it, a pebbled shore we cooled on

after swamping the canoes. We’d righted them

for the final test, flung ourselves like bass

into the stern to graduate from Whippoorwills

to next summer’s Far Horizons. Victory fires

laid in pyramids, pinestraw quick to the flame.

Horseplay carried across Norris Lake.

The Explorers from Camp Pellissippi sometimes

rowed over to Tanasi, soon turned back in their own

wake. Some of us had seen more than what boys

could do, already tinder to the fire. We knew

our angels, though we called them Grandmama

or Aunt June, other girls like blood sisters, even

the most unlikely—my stepmother—winged

all the same. On the bank, our voices one

under the constellated net: All night, all day,

angels watching over me, my Lord. We sang

as if we believed they were there, or would be

someday to swing the lantern when our way out

crossed into dark. We sang as if they might

appear, conjured from the bonfires’ white hearts,

to shield us, sword to arrow, our upturned faces

lit and burning.

Glimmer Trail

At first thinking snail,

shimmer spooled from kitchen door

to rug, perhaps drawn inside by dog kibble.

The trail brushes away, easily as night’s

mystery surrenders to the offices of day.

Then I see not snail, but lightning bug,

red eye of its head, body cold, trailing

the gold of its travels that rubs off

when you cup the pulsed light peeking

through fingers.

A bioluminescence

blinking on like the best of remembrance,

whether lit or shadowed, some goodness

still waiting on porches past dark and bathtime.

In a dusting of days ago poking holes

in lids, their brief lamps, hot with courtship,

spark our astral selves to higher planes,

though Earth’s tug will have its say.

This thread at dusk I’ve been coming to

all along, in my palm an otherworldly glow,

uncatchable.

Visitation: Necessary

What to cut back, what to leave a while longer. I leave the fennel’s plumage in the herb bed, the red-tongued persicaria muddling the path. I leave the black seedheads of coneflower and rudbeckia for the goldfinch. My rage for order conversant with the garden’s natural wantonness. All is lapsed, disarrayed, bronzed. All in its last extravagance under October’s bright-rung sky. I’ve heard fall described as a softening, but I see it as sharpening—the light, colors, air clicked into focus, the year winding down, a bittersweetness to pierce the heart. I work in stages, or I would be overwhelmed by the volume of what my sweat and grass-wet knees have stamped upon this earth—and this Earth—both my East Tennessee karst and hills and the world itself where my body’s clay vessel fills and empties season by season. The poet Tess Gallagher called gardens “islands of necessity.” My orbits in and out of the perennial beds I’ve curved like islands for 30 years have shaped me equally, crumbling my barriers to change, allowing imperfections to spread like creeping Jenny. Especially in this time of pandemic isolation, the necessity of one spade breaking ground centers me. I excavate not only my life, but also other lives before me—marbles, buttons, iron figures, bits of china—unearthed in land as crooked as my own lifeline. I’m drawn to the brick and bark path I created to separate two beds—one side straight, the other less so. I post a photo on Facebook, saying: “This path didn’t start out cockeyed, but weather and walking have made it so. As our own paths veer from what we hoped or planned—each way the right way in its time.” Friends responded on the importance of age and wabi-sabi in a garden (the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete); the Anasazi pots punched with holes to let spirits in and out; the Kazakh weavers who always leave a flaw in their rugs to avoid the pride of perfection. All reminders of our seasonal breath, the in and outness of change that drives us inward for peace, outward to create and leave our often uneven mark, veering into something we cannot yet imagine.


Rita Sims Quillen: “They Call It Seasonal Depression”, “What Bees Say”


Rita Sims Quillen’s new novel Wayland, a sequel to Hiding Ezra, published by Iris Press in 2019, is the March 2022 Bonus Book of the Month for the International Pulpwood Queens and Timber Kings Book Club. She also has a new and selected poetry collection, Some Notes You Hold, (Madville Press) published in 2020. Her full-length poetry collection, The Mad Farmer’s Wife, published in 2016 by Texas Review Press, a Texas A & M affiliation, was a finalist for the Weatherford Award in Appalachian Literature from Berea College. She lives, farms, writes songs, and takes photographs at Early Autumn Farm in southwestern Virginia.


They Call It Seasonal Depression

I remember certain dead

on certain kinds of days

often in certain seasons,

sometimes when a particular cloud

combines with a particular breeze.

Fall rings the church bell of remembrance

annual alarm clock waking us up

just to say, “This ends. It is

and then it isn’t.”

Bears sleep, the birds leave.

Trees turn to cadavers.

We hunker down in our sweaters

with a lovely fire and warm cup.

Then it’s winter’s turn, skeletal and hollow.

Only blackbirds line the fence.

The world loses its skin and its voice,

now a place without sound.

The snow comes so we can track

that something actually lives.

These two seasons combine into a fifth season

called grief—when there is no escape.

Hawks soar on rip currents aloft

strong as the river below,

so high we are formless down here.

But Spring does always come.

Always, it comes,

lays a wreath, crosses itself

and moves the world on

having already forgotten the breezes and blackbirds,

The heavy step of all who follow hawks,

blessed to wake from this cold dream of a world.

(Leave this poem by a stream or stump

A smoke signal to the deeply wounded.)

What Bees Say

When I visit the park, my babies ghost it.

Little people entertaining each other

blind to the world, so noisy nothing breaks their din.

All grown up, far and far away from me now

they no longer breach the silence.

It’s such a deep quiet

I not only hear but feel

the heavy bee swarm to my right,

a white-hot energy humming on a low branch.

Their loud pulse is a fugue of worry,

collective frantic panic:

Will we still be us tomorrow?

When there’s no way back to where we were,

we must swarm out on meadows’ breath.

Bees form their tightest knot

when silent air signals the world is broken.

They smother each other with hope

once the center is gone.

Nature knows well how to rewind

but wastes no energy there,

knows all about recriminations, regrets

the replays and reprises but holds

those echoes from evening’s soft call.

No shadows or ghosts in bee tree or fox den.

Stop looking back, tempting a salty fate,

the hum says.

You were never meant to be a pillar.