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Poetry: Kari Gunter-Seymour, Catherine Hamrick, Jessica Cory, Reneé Critcher Lyons, John Thomas York


Photo by Ben Bateson

Welcome back to the poetry corner of Appalachian Places, and if this your first time visiting us, please take a few moments to browse our archives after you savor these new poems we are sharing. We open this installment with five brilliant poems of family, devotion, and the adventures of youth from Ohio Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour. Be sure to click over to Lacy Snapp’s new interview with Kari Gunter-Seymour, in which they discuss a range of topics related to these poems, including the Women of Appalachia Project. Next we head south to Rome, Georgia, as Catherine Hamrick offers poems that merge experiences of water with the passing of time. Our travels take us up to Western Carolina, by way of Southeast Ohio, with 3 poems from editor and scholar Jessica Cory that explore the flora and fauna of the Appalachian Anthropocene. Renee’ C. Lyons takes us back to the world of small farms that once populated so much of central Appalachia in “All Over the Chrome.” We close with a suite of poems from North Carolina poet John Thomas York that channel the life and legend of the great Doc Watson. Can’t you just hear the guitar strings ringing and that plaintive old voice singing to us from deep into the past?


Jesse Graves, Appalachian Places Poetry Editor




Kari Gunter-Seymour: 'She Would Have Crawled Through Hell on Her Belly Over Glass"; "Carolina Kin"; "Under Canopy of Oak and Wood Thrush"; "Today a Bird"; "Sometimes I Picture You Walking Too Far Ahead"


Kari Gunter-Seymour the Poet Laureate of Ohio, founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project and editor of the anthology series “Women Speak.” Her poetry collections include Child of the Large-Beaked Bird (EastOver Press 2023) Alone in the House of My Heart (Ohio University Swallow Press, 2022) and A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen (Sheila Na Gig Editions, 2020). Her work has been featured on Verse Daily, World Literature Today, The New York Times, Rattle, About Place Journal and Poem-a-Day.



She Would Have Crawled Through Hell

on Her Belly Over Glass

Which is why I cannot tend the garden

without a tingle of nostalgia

or bare the honeysuckle’s unction,

those tender tendrils. I swear


she exuded hints of that nectar

even during winter’s wearisome months,

so connected was she to the land

and its ways, her eyes brimmed

in echoes of foothills and sky.


I would come to her broken.

She would cackle like a banty hen,

slap a thigh, dance a weebly-whirl.

Every care I thought to claim

became nameless.


When worries press in, I kneel

as she taught me, her trowel in hand,

attend the ‘taters and peas, the strawberries

plump, beginning to blush.


There’s a mare in the barn, hungry for apples,

the bluebirds’ box tidy and new-nested,

tree frogs eep and bleedle along the creek,

the light of her presence so vivid,

I have to squint my eyes.




Carolina Kin

Tether-born—thorns on a rosebush,

heritors of the hive, chroniclers

of who done what to who.

Nostalgia mongers, lined up like leftovers

wrapped in Tupperware or tin foil,

children clutched to calico aprons,

shy as bat-eared foxes,

moony as moths hitting a windshield.


Counterparts—cocksure, lanky,

all ribs and sternums, head cupped palms,

ball caps tucked low, oily rags in back pockets,

twang-hinged lips spitting tobacco

and local politics astride a string of hexes,

language clear as morning fog.


Inside the house—tintypes trim the mantle,

holdovers trussed up, Sundayfied,

clinging to Bibles and boggy timbers,

opaque around the edges—his eyes, her nose,

ancestral gap between front incisors.


Back of the barn—pats on the back,

slap of a knee, fiddle, banjo,

tang of Bar-B-Que, cob corn and ‘taters,

spice of the loblolly pines.




Under Canopy of Oak and Wood Thrush

Leaves float. Frost slicks the underbrush,

tips our red wool gloves, Gore-Tex boots.


We huddle, breath and heartbeat,

quash self-projections, the compulsive need to speak.


My granddaughter dreams of active shooters,

learns to build barricades inside her classroom,

memorize exit strategies.


Here, we stack acorns, study chipmunks,

listen to grass stories carried skyward on bird tongues,


pinpoint clouds between branches,

chirp silliest sing-a-longs.




Today a Bird

Only an open-handed woman

understands the way a brain plugs in its love,

surrenders to the authority of propriety,

breasts sweating under secondhand


polyester, a woman who leans invisible

into the world, cups her proclamations,

struggles to perceive how the petite and ponytailed

learn to prance, toss their lanky manes,


a woman who’s known a patch of grass

her whole long life, its rises and hollows,

the sting of rain, knobs of wild yarrow,

streaks of dazzling dusk, knows a bluebird


flown headfirst into a window is beautiful,

even in its stillness, laid out

in a pasteboard box of tinsel and fading blooms,

sight the softest form of touch.




Sometimes I Picture You Walking Too Far Ahead

We wore Carhartt bibs, Red Wing boots,

denim ball caps turned backwards,

smoked Marlboros, ganja when we could get it,

drank Everclear and Hawaiian Punch

mixed in Ronald McDonald collector cups,


sang Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time,

Bonnie Raitt’s Something to Talk About,

rode the ridges on a used Yamaha 1100.

Local boys called us dykes

because we wouldn’t put out.


But I quit the quaaludes right after

we woke up soaking wet under a beech tree

outside a town neither of us recognized.


You’d get fired up, unbuckle your bibs,

skinny dip anytime there was a full moon,

claiming your ginormous breasties

would keep you afloat indefinitely,


spout on about whose ass you’d like to kick,

the latest fool who tried to kiss you,

your up-to-the-minute political twaddle,

sung loud and purposefully off pitch.


To this day, neighbors go out of their way

to describe drowning as a peaceful passing.

All I know is this loneness of body,

curse the way my legs still carry me forward.




Catherine Hamrick: 'Around the Corner'; 'Swimming after Trout'


Catherine Hamrick is the copywriter and content strategist for Berry College in Rome, Georgia. She previously held senior editorial positions at Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking Light, Southern Accents, Victoria and Meredith Books. Her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in The Blue Mountain Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, storySouth, GreenPrints and elsewhere. Hamrick placed as a runner-up for the Natasha Trethewey Poetry Prize in 2020 and 2022. Find her online at Random Storyteller




Around the Corner

David and Danny stray from Farmer Brown’s field,

following its creek in search of mysteries

when something scuttles in the shallows, pinching

and pleasing. “What is it?” whispers David.

“A fish, a crawling fish,” says Danny, folding

on his knees at the bank’s edge, stretching out

his hand, hesitating, frightened at the pincers

but thrilled to the shell, thick and calcified.

“Why is it?” whispers David, and Danny hovers

his fingers over the water, just an inch,

and glimpses the broken joint of a missing leg

before rapid tail flips jerk the creature backward.

At five, he’s out of words, agitated by the heat

and the racket of cicadas buzzing


and clicking their last month high in the trees

after shedding years burrowed below.

At dusk, the crickets start their tinny chirrs,

between the whines of katy-did-katy-didn’t,

and tree frogs throw trills like ventriloquists,

calling out thunderstorms in steamy air—

with night vibrating against the screens,

Danny forgets how his father sounded,

losing one more piece to a summer hollowed

like cicada husks littering the ground.

At thirty-five, he overhears retired guys

in a diner, sipping coffee and devouring


Danish while they recite obituaries

that praise fruitful years (or mask wasted days)


and sigh, “I had no idea so-and-so was sick.”

But he’s too hurried for capsule biographies


of politicians and poets, teachers

and engineers, CEOs and truck drivers,


because fall cleanup is overdue since the cold

silenced the nights, and he cannot put off


patching bald spots and mulching perennials;

the checklist is longer than he’d like to think.


Danny goes around the corner of the house

to grab a rake; his son rattles the playpen,


pulling up to find his feet—his eyes grip the sky,

full of cloud rollovers, as Danny returns, glancing


sideways, at his father’s black hair, an instant,

like the crawfish dart, while his son yearns upward.




Swimming after Trout

The sun prickles me,

and the dock creaks, rocking

on algae-spotted Styrofoam.

A silvery leap spatters

this drowsy morning,

now tail-thrashed alert

as trout flee weed beds

and sunken logs

for spring-fed depths—

far from the snaking neck

and strut and stalk

of a great blue heron.

My toes line the edge

of wave-slapped wood,

and I dive, in an arc,

into the current,

plunging below

tepid-safe waters,

desiring mute cool green

until it presses

hard on my breast,

and I push upward,

bursting into white air,

and a gasp of joy.




Jessica Cory:  'The Smell of Memory'; 'Ode to the Autumn Daffodil'; 'Forked Tongue';


Jessica Cory teaches at Western Carolina University and is a PhD candidate specializing in Native American, African American, and environmental literature at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She is the editor of Mountains Piled upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene (WVU Press, 2019) and the co-editor (with Laura Wright) of Appalachian Ecocriticism and the Paradox of Place (UGA Press, forthcoming 2023). Her creative and scholarly writings have been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Northern Appalachia Review, and other fine publications. Originally from southeastern Ohio, she currently lives in Sylva, North Carolina.




The Smell of Memory

Lilacs curl against the clapboard,

their linen-fresh scent clinging to the petrichor.

We cut a few, carry them inside to dress the kitchen table

to the cemetery to dress graves

in a tin bucket to share with neighbors.

Their petals drop and become bookmarks

table runners

trails leading us home.




Ode to the Autumn Daffodil Amid the roadside weeds on my way home,

I spy it out the window to the right.

Growing between the trees, kudzu, and loam,

Its petals reflecting the sun’s own light.


At forty miles per hour, hard to tell,

exactly what type of flower it was.

The yellow of a faded daffodil,

face open like lilies or irises.


This time of year though, only goldenrod

Speckles these hills with its radiant hue

And thus I thought my vision surely flawed

To see this sunny capturer of dew.


The next day I returned and looking back,

found a weathered Dollar General sack.




Forked Tongue

I lay down my homeland

and latch onto another.


Trade the Paint for the Pigeon,

Scioto for Tuskasegee,

Buckeye for Tulip Poplar.

Move from the land of the Shawanwa

to the Ani’yvwi’ya.


In this space so strange

yet familiar, I place

blackberries in my cart, returning it to a sign labeled buggy.


maybe becomes might could

lights get cut on

I get confused.


As I latch on, the gashes in the mountains

get deeper, slopes get steeper,

tea gets sweeter. But the honeysuckle,


Lord, the ‘suckle tastes the same.




Reneé Critcher Lyons: 'ALL OVER THE CHROME'


Reneé Critcher Lyons is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN. Serving as the Program Coordinator for the School Librarianship Program, she holds both a M.L.S. and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Renee' has published in YALS, Children and Libraries, and the International Journal of the Book. The author of The Revival of Banned Dances (McFarland, 2012), she serves on national book award committees for the American Library Association and The Nature Generation and is secretary of the board of directors for the National Children’s Book Literacy Alliance. 




ALL OVER THE CHROME


Over in the orchard of my soul,

campfire lights flicker.

And, once again, brother’s face

glows like a rainbow –

kaleidoscope of color cascading to gold,

overseeing a tiny island of mountain.


Memories of our parents’ voices echo from the past.

“Sun’s up.”


Ripped-open gunnie sack tied to the shoulder

holds 75 pounds of potato eyes –

staring upwards, wondering which will

next meet fate.

Drop each one, big brother, and press them into the earth

with your heavy, laced, high-top boots.

Fly messages over your shoulder,

“Cover them good, little sister.”


“Keep it between the rows,” Dad insists.


At age 13, push the tractor’s choke in,

hear gurgles smoke from the spout.

Let out the clutch; ease the lever down.

Reach for my uplifted arms that beckon

for the side seat, and

with a turn of your head, fix eagle eyes

to navigate collapsing waves of dirt.


“We’re ‘bout out,” Dad hollers.


Pile a muddy, running water crate of

plants onto your shoulder.

Carry them w a a a ay out the row

and place a bundle in my arms.

As I release them, one by one,

wedge a hole, plunge roots deep.

With a smack from your planter,

pack the soil

for a vegetable’s new home.


“It’s gonna storm. Go get the cattle off the top.”

falls Dad’s urgent command.


Arms flying, herd bovine down the hill

with the help of that Spot of a dog who always

gets more than his share of table scraps.

Safe the brutes are from the zig-zag bolts of death,

one more time.

“Quit messing and gomming,” Mom pleads as you wash through

the front door, sloshing thunderclap drizzle at little sister’s feet.


“Climb on up there and keep it in the truck bed,” Dad instructs.


Up through the holler, along the mountain’s incline, and

to the barn – youth rides high.

Guardian of the straw – one long strand sticking out of your mouth,

many broken pieces clinging to your sweaty body.

“Lemonade,” big brother calls, spinning me

round toward the kitchen.


“Her bag’s full,” Mom smiles.


Milk pail on an arm’s crook,

Morning dew and evening calm.

Squirt little sister with a warm stream as I

watch you and the calf fight for udders.

Set the pale, creamy liquid, topped with drowning flies

and cow-hoof debris, at Mom’s kitchen door.


Take the apple peelings, peach fuzz,

blanched skin of tomatoes, prickly coverings of cucumber

and “Slop the hogs.”


Pour the mess through the window

into the mangy trough – listen to the Hampshire grunt.

“Your snout’s as dirty as the hogs’, little sister,” teases big brother.


“Nothing else to do on a hot summer afternoon?” Dad asks.

“Grab the sickle and mow briers off the Knob.”


Swing the blade of crescent moon

to the rhythm of your tune of blue,

stopping long enough to provide well-deep wisdom

to a skin-splintered sister:

“Don’t ever let a thorn’s flower fool you, girl.”


“Never be idle,” Dad instructs.


Whittle a new cabbage stick on the porch of March winds.

Or, sharpen the blade that will slice the bounty,

forcing firefly sparks from the flint,

breaking just long enough to shoo little sister’s hands away.

“Those fingers of yours are bony enough,” my protector chides.


My parents’ voices fade into my own...


“Teach me,” I demand over and over.

Teach little sister how to make a blade of grass whistle

and about the sweetness of birch bark.

Teach her when the plums are ripe and

which limbs are best for climbing the cherry tree.


Leader of the pack –

Despite all the wisdom freely shared, all you ever asked of me as we grew older was:

“Take good care of my car.” (How you loved that fire-engine-red Dodge)!


It took little sister a long time to find the cheesecloth.

But, finally, big brother, I’m busy shining your hubcaps.

Now others, too, can see the golden firelight spread

rays of rainbow color

….all over the chrome.




John Thomas York: 'The View from Deep Gap'; 'Singing School, The Sacred Harp'; 'Barnyard Bourdon'; 'Discovery'; 'Newport Folk Festival, 1963'


John Thomas York grew up on a farm in Yadkin County, in northwestern NC. His full-length poetry collection, Cold Spring Rising, was published in 2012 by Press 53. Since then, his work has appeared in Tar River Poetry, KROnline (Kenyon Review), Poetry East, Appalachian Journal, and several other magazines and anthologies. He has won both the James Applewhite Poetry Prize and the Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize from North Carolina Literary Review. Website: www.johnthomasyork.com




The View from Deep Gap


Navigating a snake of a road,

creeping along in a cloud

and listening to Doc on the tape deck,

I found a mountain


materializing out of thin air

(out of thin air the bare

blue trees, the Parkway overpass),

and then I stopped to stare


at the wide valley covered by a fog

as level as the ocean.

And the ridge on yon side might've been

the Hills of County Down,


or the Highlands, the Beacons, the Atlas

Mountains: who knew they were

so close, the Mothers and Fathers, their songs

like seeds in black furrows,


Pretty Saro walking a dark holler

and weeping, reading a poem

she will long understand, her lover

a poor man, cursed for to roam?


And I, a pilgrim heading home,

heard the old song

in the fading light, and felt the everlasting

charge in flesh and bone.




Singing School, The Sacred Harp


When General Watson kept time, arm waving

palm-down, pumping the congregation,


the people sang their syllables, warming

up to the melody, then the lyrics,


voices free of vibrato, just this side

of shouting, four parts finding places,


as if a fiddler were tuning as he played—

maybe there was an ancestral memory


of bagpipes, of reeds that made the feet

twitch and the hair stand at attention—


they sang of the Savior's promise,

they called on a spirit from a deep vein


of salt, the grit that preserves, a savor

on the tongue of every singer: and you,


Arthel Watson, sat on your mother's lap

and smelled the salt, but tasted your Mama's sweet


voice, the first you heard, nine months of ballad

and lullaby—the first songs you learned by heart.




Barnyard Bourdon


Reaching into his Christmas stocking, he always found

a harmonica—

Papa showed him how to breathe, how to tongue

the holes,

How to play "Cotton-Eyed Joe" or "Cripple Creek"—

Arthel took it everywhere, until it fell out of his pocket,

in hayloft, laurel thicket, or roadside ditch.


Then he returned to kitchen music, spoons or forks tapping

pans, tin cans, the wood stove,

Until Mama shooed him out to the porch, there to play

brush and washtub, milk bucket, nail can

(boom-chinka-boom-chinka),

Where Brother Arnold jumped onto the porch boards clogging

to shake the dirt off his brogans, shaking

the plates on the kitchen table.


And when the postman brought him a new harp, Arthel

decided he wanted a bass line,

Rigged up a steel wire, one end attached to a hook

on the barn door, the other to a stob stuck in the dirt,

Pushed and pulled the door until the throbbing harmonized

with the harp,

And he played "Home Sweet Home," right hand flailing

while the left held the harmonica,

And he stopped long enough to sing, "Be it ever so humble

there's no place like home!"

The barnyard drone booming over the farm, the bourdon

blooming into lips, fingers, toes—

a thousand songs, music everywhere.




Discovery


His brothers lead him to a place

where the water pools, where a rope dangles

from a limb, one brother handing the rope

while another waits to guide

Arthel away from the rocks—Oh, the thrill of a swing

in a bright fog,

the cool darkness of the creek bank.


Or he walks the road barefooted without a guiding arm,

his feet learning patterns of gravel and rut,

he listens for echoes of road bank and ditch weed,

pretends to be a boy made of rubber, laughing with the others

when he stubs a toe or skins elbows and knees

or when a tree limb surprises crown or forehead.


Or the whiff-whaff of the crosscut saw,

his father guiding him to the handle, teaching him the song

of labor, the smell of sour locust or sweet pine dust,

the ache, the sweat, the grinning

when his daddy says, "Good job, boy!"


Then night cooling the tin roof, the occasional plink,

voices retreating into yawns gaping, then the hoot owls

talking in the holler, the moon a dazzle

at the window like that girl who is always out of reach

when he tries to play tag.


Then one day, a cousin leaves a guitar in the corner

and Arthel picks it up, takes it carefully to his chair,

strums searching for a chord as if

he has caught the girl he will marry:

his daddy promises Arthel

a Silvertone of his own if he can learn a song

by the time he's home from the saw mill,


so the boy searches the frets, finds three chords,

three magic words that together make

a vow, marrying Arthel to six strings

and a breeze from the southeast easing

through the corn, or the north wind singing

around the corner of the house, or the west wind

in the pines playing a song nearly forgotten

or a song never heard before.




Newport Folk Festival, 1963


He came from a four-room bungalow, a house

where no telephone rang, where the light

in the window shone from an oil lantern,

where instead of bathroom they said out house, slop jar.


He came from wood-shedding for ten years

with Jack Williams and the Rail Riders,

a combo playing rockabilly or jazz or fiddle tunes

for square dances, Doc picking


a Fender Telecaster, going electric to be heard

above the stomping, flirting, fussing—

or, before that, he came from busking at street corners

or in front of cab stands or barber shops


in Wilkesboro, Lenoir, or Boone, Doc collecting

change in a cup to take back home,

or, before that, he came from the School for the Blind,

Django Reinhardt on the Philco,


he came from Deep Gap, Daddy leading

hymn-singing or Mama churning butter and singing

of Tom Dula, Omie Wise, or Little Matty Groves,

or his father-in-law fiddling, saying,


Look down, look down that lonesome road,

or the Watsons winding up

a Victrola, Doc wearing out his recordings

of the Delmore Brothers, the Skillet Lickers—


And thanks to Ralph Rinzler, here

is Doc, abashed by folks who have come

not to drink or fight but to watch fingers

on a borrowed Martin guitar,


the man never missing a step as he builds

with dazzling economy a stairway

winding skyward, and the listeners

follow up and over "Black Mountain,"


they feel the final rush downhill, the bump

that lifts them from their seats

as if gravity were diminished,

as they whistle, clap, and holler.

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