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.
I left something in Kentucky
just north of Jellico
lost, now in the Cumberland
Youth is never wasted --
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
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.
“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.
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
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).