James Jul 11

I remember my father
when I was young
and he still had the lungs
of a young man.

The dirt under his nails,
the black soot
that never washed from the back of his neck
or from the creases that moved from his eyes;
those deep lines of a life lived in labor
are etched in my memory
like the jagged rocks from Black Mountain
that still fall with every Fall rain.

The mines are gone,
but the mountain still bleeds
with every fresh rain
a new layer is peeled off
it slides down the hills and valleys
filling the creeks with a fresh layer
of mud and silt.

The people of the valley will tell you
of a time when they looked out their windows
and saw the majesty of the Cumberland,
but they are dreaming.
All I see is is a bald knob, muddy trails
that lead to muddy trails
and a wasted land.

And somewhere in this rolling hill country
my father is resting,
his fingernails scrubbed clean with time.

Black Mountain in Harlan County Kentucky was Strip Mined in the 1970's.  Every year, now the residents have to deal with the flooding and debris that comes from years of unchecked erosion.
James Jun 9

I turn the collar of my fleece lined coat
protecting me from the cold North wind.
The chill bites at my ears. The warmth
From the camp fire can’t reach me.
Hunching down further into my coat
I tilt my head from the wind as best I can.

It’s my first coon hunt with my grandfather,
my father, and his Uncle Charlie.  I try hard
to mimic them, to be the men they are,
but all I can think about this night
is the heavy patchwork quilt my grandmother made.

I listen to the men tell hunting stories from years ago.
I see my father glance at me, a stern look,
But compassionate making sure I am
"hanging tough." I’m careful not to embarrass him.
The moon is high and full.  I can see the speckled stars
flickering through the bare October canopy.

Without saying a word my grandfather stands,
picks up his rifle and looks through the tree tops.
His half Blue Tick, half Walker Hound moves,
nose to the ground, and disappears into the darkness.

James Jun 6

Dirt road, a bumpy dusty drive.
They are all the same, carved by years of tire tracks;
deep ruts cut down once a year smoothed over only for a day.
I pull over to let a coal truck pass
one of the few remaining remnants of a time
when the people in these hills could still find work.
Now all they have is their pride,
and bits of family land, not already sold away.
When I was a child we picked blackberries and muscadine here,
the vines, woven through the barbed wire fence that lined the road.
The bushes are gone now, smothered by tangled briars and kudzu.

Pulling off the dirt road I drive up the winding mountain highway
It’s two lanes now,
blasted from the earth, the scars are ever-present in the rock cliffs.
Down below the mountain valleys are dark green with a purple hue in the dusk
with a mountain mist is rising, burying me in the Cumberland.

Dented mailboxes point to what life is left.
Gravel driveways and rusty trailers replace the old wood-framed houses.
A few are still standing, their tin roofs collapsed,
porches fallen with no more stories to tell.

My family, like so many others, have mostly moved on.
The ones who are left are strangers I hardly know.
I only drive up this way now for funerals.
Soon they will all be gone.

A very early poem for me, reminiscing about people and a way of life that is almost gone.
James Mar 28

No sleeping in,
everyone gets a bath
hair parted to the right.

Momma's got her best dress out,
black, with white flowers
faded and frayed at the edges,
no one will notice,
that's what she tells herself
running her fingers over the lace collar.
It was beautiful when she bought it
but that was years ago.
Her white pumps aren't too scuffed.
Maybe next month she'll get a new dress.
Maybe She said the same thing last month.

She never cries about it, but I can see the tears,
she tries to hold them back as I walk past her
to get last year's hand-me-downs from the dryer.

"Time to go," she says, grabbing her bible,
King James, worn and coming apart at the binding,
but a Bible should be well used.  
She gives us each a pat on the head with it
as we march past her,
single file down the broken wooden steps
and into the car,
it starts on the third try.
We'll get there on time,

and listen to the preacher tell us
how humility is found in poverty.

A revised re-post.  I've been asked to read at public poetry reading but have no idea what to read.  I thought this one might work.  What do you think?
James Mar 20

I left something in Kentucky
just north of Jellico
lost, now in the Cumberland

Youth is never wasted --
It's spent,

Our youth is spent in waste

When she took my hand and led me
over the rocks and into the stream
I wasn't sure if it was the cold water
or the feel of her skin against mine
that caused my stomach
to clinch and rise to my throat

More likely it was fear

As her body moved over mine
I felt a fearful, spiritual sensation

The sermon that morning
was on the evils of the flesh
and the sin of earthly desire

That preacher had never been chest deep
in a mountain spring
staring up at a noon sun
through strands of auburn hair
and eyes illuminated by water
glistening in the mid-day light

I left her at the mailbox
standing at the intersection
of the gravel road and her dirt driveway

As her fingers slipped from mine
I asked if I could walk her to church
next Sunday, too

James Mar 9

The rain on the roof, it’s hypnotic;
taking me back home
The tin roof on an old screened-in porch
summer nights we slept there,
escaping the southern heat,
feeling the cool breeze after a thunderstorm --
I smell the moisture in the air
fresh rain on the grass outside
Steam rising from the paved road.
The rhythmic sound sends me to sleep
I see my mother and my grandmother
shucking corn and shelling beans.
I catch nightcrawlers with my grandfather.
Tomorrow we’re going fishing.

James Mar 9

“Where’re you from?”
That’s usually the first question I get when people first meet me.  
I guess I am a little bit different,
after all, I was born on a hill-side farm, so steep
that daddy had to go out every morning and turn the cows around
so their legs wouldn’t grow shorter on one side.
But, that’s life in the mountains,
when every day is a hard-scrabble fight just to get by.
Most people don’t believe it;
don’t believe that there are real people still living
a hand-to-mouth life,
still, fight’n every day for tomorrow’s breakfast
and worrying if this year’s corn will make
or if a flood will ruin the sweet potatoes before the Fall harvest --
Worrying about whatever critter’s got the hens spooked
so bad they ain’t laid in two weeks
all while little Junior’s got the croup
and the nearest Doctor is more than an hour away
we ain’t got insurance anyway
and who’s got money to pay.
It’s work six days a week, sun-up to sundown,
but Sunday’s are for praying
and listening to the preacher lead us in “Amazing grace,
how sweet the sound,”
just so we’re reminded of how blessed we really are
while we try to hold our eyes open
because we were up all night with a sick mare trying to foal
and the two hours of sleep we did get
were interrupted by a wheezing cough from Grandma’s room.
But every other week we get a trip to town,
with a stop at the feed store and  Wal-Mart
so we can look at what-not while momma buys flour
and store-bought eggs--
until the hens start lay’n again.

I took this down to work on it a while back.  Hope you enjoy it.
James Mar 6

Running barefoot through the pasture
feeling the fescue between my toes.
Ten years old, maybe a little more,
no worries, no cares, just a few chores.

It's summer in the mountains.
We catch crappie and smallmouth
with grubs from a rotten log.
The Cumberland River is wild,
an endless treasure of adventure.
Trout rule the streams that feed the rapids,
impossible for you, but we know their secrets.

Dusk is falling.
I can hear my mother calling

A slightly revised oldie.
ConnectHook Sep 2015

Dolly Parton: bright as waters
cleft before the Israelites
may your matrons, sons, and daughters,
bluegrass saints and satellites

crown our country, brim our fountains
long as your lyrical honor reaches
from the Appalachian mountains
to that land the Bible preaches.

Hear our thanks for all your singing
all the years of Faith and Glory
lifting up the Lord – then stinging
like a psalm (imprecatory).

I love Dolly Parton ! Thank you Jesus.

Joseph Hart Jul 2014

I dug a little and I cried a little
On a hillside that was steep,
So my mama could sleep.

Each dig I dig it‘ll
kill me, gotta dig a grave six feet deep,
I dug a little and I cried a little

The birds I hear them tweet,
I don’t want to see her go so I piddle,
I want my momma to sleep.

Someday on this hill we’ll meet
The dirt is hard and rock riddled,
I dug a little and I cried a little

I’m the only one to do this deed,
The worms will have their nibble,
but my mama will sleep

I’ve finished my job and I’ll have to venture,
I’ve dug so long the ground is sleet.
I dug a little and I cried a little
So my mama could sleep.

To Libby and her Mother.

— The End —