Kathryn Stripling Byer
but piece by piece carried
up narrow stairs
into the rafters,
shave summered through
of Bible-Belt heat.
I can stand only so much
of being up here,
on this late August afternoon,
dead-end of summer
in which I come looking
for her again.
In the usual places.
This jewelry casket,
for instance. Inside it
she stares from the heart
of a foliate brooch
that I raise in a tangle
of gold chains I don't
try to loosen. She's still
here: a face
I have used up
A mouth slightly open
and inside that
for me to speak out of it.
My Grandfather’s Cattle Gap
frightened me. Cattle knew better
than cross, but my cousins did not
and took turns fording slats
over hardly more depth than a ditch.
I refused to play Russian Roulette
on what felt like a train trestle over
a bottomless pit. Blame the story
my mother had told me:
the tomboy whose leg fell through,
broken, of course, and the train
chuffing closer and closer.
That cattle gap rattled like coffin slats.
What if some poor heifer was dumb enough
to cross over? Her bones splintered
each time I thought of it. Poor cow,
she would be shot before dawn.
Poor grand-daughter, she would be
rushed to the emergency room
only to lounge in a cast for the rest
of the summer. Yes, I blame my mother
for that silly fear. Not to mention her dream
in which the cattle gap rattles again and again
as she drives toward the burning house
where everyone she loves lies sleeping.
Step into it,
it is only a word,
like her name, Julianna,
a word now for
mourning and opens
itself step by step
to your saying it.
Duskfall. A curtain
a caravan of lights
coming toward you,
cortege, or just
lost their way, each
of them smiling
as if they are glad
to have found you
at home. Turn
the lights on, the radio.
Open the whiskey
or sloe gin or whatever
waits on the table and sit
down together. It's duskfall.
You called it. It came.
Thinking Myself Home
I have to look up and over the trees
all the way to the mountains I see in the distance,
then hang a left soon as I get there,
thinking my way down the Blue Ridge
and into the piedmont just south
of Atlanta. From there it's a straight
shoot to home,
if I still want to go, which I do
because this is the best way,
by stealth, no one knows I am coming,
no cake to be baked,
and my mother not worrying most of her day
by the telephone, clearly imagining
fifty car pile-ups,
the ambulance wailing, the whole bloody
nine miles of interstate closed
for the body count.
No idle comments about my new haircut,
my extra pounds. I could be dust
on the air or a bright stab of light passing through.
I don't have to stay long.
I can leave when I want to, without feeling guilty
when I see my father's eyes squinching
back tears as I drive away.
Hello and goodbye. That's it.
And I'm back
in my bedroom that faces south into the side
of these trees, with the radio on
warning Traveler's Advisory. Wrecking-ball hailstones.
King Kong tornado. Megaton Blizzard.
A forecast so unimaginably bad, only a fool
would drive home in this kind of weather.
-all poems previously published in The Courtland Review