Monday, December 19, 2011


Today, Rev. William Boys and members of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are praying for creation…

A Poem Prayer (or Hymn*) Concerning Mountain-top Removal Coal Mining

by William E. Boys, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

God, whose voice breaks rocks asunder,
Spirit, brooding o'er the deep:
Your good world evokes our wonder,
Beauty that we long to keep.

Yet, weak stewards, wielding thunder,
Blasting, moving, we debase --
With our knowledge oft we plunder,
Wanton, wasteful -- cure our ways.

Mountain people’s spirits plummet;
Hear our prayer; their needs be seen:
Peace be giv'n to mountain summits,
Let their streams run fresh and clean.


* Could be sung to any familiar hymn tune fitting a trochee (but not iambic) foot,
some examples drawn from Evangelical Lutheran Worship are:
Galilee, “Jesus Calls Us, O’er the Tumult” 696
Merton, “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” 246
Omni Die, “For the Bread Which You Have Broken” 494
Rathbun, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” 324
Stuttgart, “Crashing Waters at Creation” 455
The Servant Song, “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant” 659.


Sunday, December 18, 2011


December Sunset

Day 17 of the 40 Days of Prayer
from LEAF 
December 18, 2011

Today, Steve Ferguson and members of Community Church, Mountain City, Tennessee, are praying for creation…

O Blessed Christ
Precious treasury of compassion,
Bestower of supreme inner peace,

You who love all beings without exception,
Are the source of happiness and goodness,
Creator of this universe whose speech is supreme, a purifying nectar,
And your love a refuge for all living things.

Lead us to awakening.

With folded hands we turn to you,
Supreme unchanging friend,
We request from the depths of our hearts:

Please give us the light of your wisdom,
To dispel the darkness of our minds
And to heal the destruction of our greed and insensitivity
Towards your delicate creation.

Please nourish us with your goodness,
That we in turn, will nourish all beings
With a bounty of unceasing gratefulness,

Through your compassionate intention,
Your blessings and virtuous deeds,
And a strong willingness to rely on you,

May all the useless destruction of sacred creation cease,
And all happiness and joy return,
To all of God's mountains, rivers and streams.
That all living things be cherished again,
Upon your earth,
And in the hearts of men.



Saturday, December 17, 2011


       What a great gathering of women in this anthology edited by Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham!  And what a great Christmas gathering of several of those writers at the Coffee with the Poets at City Lights Bookstore this past Thursday!  We nearly had standing room only, and I can't credit the Milky Way Cake of my Piece of Cake Laureate poem fame, though the plate was clean by the time we left. The credit belongs to these writers and the two savvy editors who put together a diverse group of voices from 50 Western North Carolina Women Writers.

Books and cake and coffee! It doesn't get any better than this!

For a wonderful post about this anthology, please go to Kaye W. Barley's fine blog, Meanderings and Musings.   Here you will find information for ordering this book, as well as details about the cover artist and the editors.

You can order WOMAN'S SPACES, WOMAN'S PLACES  online from City Lights Bookstore.

Writers who read from their anthologized work are standing behind the editors, Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham. ( I'm sitting beside Celia.)  They are, from left to right, Beth Moore, Janie Mae Jones McKinley, Marian Gowan, Martha O'Quinn, Jennifer McGaha, JC Walkup, and Glenda Beall.  

Celia and Nancy asked me to begin by reading Peg Rhodes' poem, which I was happy to do, finding it moving and oh so resonant at this stage in my life. Peg was unable to be with us.


I am older and wiser now.
I have climbed to the peak
Of Transition Mountain
Where footing is rocky and sharp
And the downward view 
Is perilous and real.

Courage, my heart, as you scan
The lonely panorama of Aging.
Make the careful descent
From denial to acceptance
Aware of the wild flowers
Peeping from the crevices.

Adjustment is the order of the day--
And the long nights.

***Peg Rhodes, political activist and humanist, has written poems most of her life.  At ninety, she continues to write and publish.

Janie Mae Jones McKinley reads from her selection,  "On Bear Mountain."  We could all go with her as she remembered walking with her grandfather to Naybin's general store, the aromas of onions, hoop cheese, fertilizer, and oiled wood floors filling our imaginations.  And candy!  She had even brought small bags of old-fashioned penny candy to give to each one of us.

                        JC Walkup chats with Glenda Beall before the program begins.  J.C's towel buying saga left us laughing like school girls, while Glenda's moving poem about her grief after the loss of her husband left us hushed.

Martha O'Quinn, Marian Gowan, and Beth Moore get caffeinated before Celia and Nancy begin their introduction.   Martha's poem gave us imagery to carry home, as good poetry always manages to do.  Marian, a quilter, described a special quilting retreat on the NC coast. (Maybe I should finally take up quilting before it's too late!)  And Beth's lovely recollection a trip to Kenya captured the spirit of the season in a profound and lyrical way.

Jennifer McGaha's "Vampire Run" was hilarious and expertly crafted.  But don't take my word about how good these poems and stories are.
Over the next few days I'll be posting them, or excerpts,  to highlight  that morning's celebration of mountain women's voices.  Keep dropping by to read them.
And order the book for Christmas, if you haven't already.    It's not too late!

Friday, November 25, 2011


A poem for the end of November and yet another year added to my ledger of days.  And in memory of Ruth Stone, who died just hours ago, at the age of 96.  She was and remains a poet who gives me the strength to celebrate an aging woman's vision and imagination.


go, the leaves try
to teach
me a thing or
two yet
about dying
as if I have not
seen enough
of  that falling
away to last
lifetimes of
wondering what if
I crumpled
and fell
to the ground,
who would look
at me, murmuring
oh, what a
departure, that
old woman floating
so gently
down onto
the compost pile.

from Catching Light, LSU Press

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grave Stone

Primitive gravestone from the 1830's in the Smoky Mountains

          Grave Stone

So that the dead might always
be able to see mountains circled with clouds
and fog, spiraled by hawks and the currents
they ride, we bury each of our gone
ones as high as we can astride hillsides.
We bring to their chiseled names
flowers and muttered words, sometimes
our songs, if our throats have been loosened
from sorrow at last.  We lie down
in the spring grass beside them.  We stand
in the snow, all a'shiver with emptiness.
Summer we scatter our memories
over their slabs,  our dusty hands
opening onto another day's leave taking.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

El Dia de los Muertos, or, in our culture, All Souls Day

The second day of November is All Souls Day, or in Mexico and Central America, El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when our gone ones are honored with candles, their favorite foods, and memories of their lives with us.   My sister SW Georgian, Glenda Council Beall, remembers her kinfolk in this poem that seems a fitting expression of All Souls Day.   The closing line, "closed under sod upon a quiet hill" rings with the voices of the Romantic poets I love.   Glenda now lives in the WNC mountains, like me, over in Hayesville, where she has been active in the NC Writers Network West and now has her own writing circle (see below).  Her blog sites are well worth visiting.   

Stop the Trees from Growing

Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again,
but I came here today, to where Mother nurtured
my spirit and where Daddy kept the roof over my head;
where the fire warmed my bed at night, when winter winds
howled ‘round the corners of the old frame house
when this flat farm with ponds and pines was home.

It’s not the buildings all torn down, the homes of friends
that now hold dreams of families I don’t know ─ it is
the trees.
Nothing stopped the trees from growing, growing ever taller,
till they dwarfed the house, the barn, the back yard,
now a tiny garden towered over by  a lilac tree
a pear tree and one giant oak.

I traveled from what is and has been home for fifteen years,
to visit that which was, but is not home anymore.
Like you, Thomas Wolfe, I can’t go home again.
That place I once called home is gone.

Forever gone, except in memories that linger like lazy chimney smoke
spiraling through my mind, thoughts that surge a yearning deep within
to hear the laughing voices, see the kindly eyes – stilled voices, loving eyes,
closed under sod upon a quiet hill.

Glenda Beall grew up in southwest Georgia where the land is flat and the horizon green pines. Her home is now in western North Carolina where she feels she has always belonged. Her poetry chapbook, Now Might as Well be Then, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2009. Her poetry has appeared in Kakalak, 2009 Anthology of North Carolina Poets, as well as literary journals, Main Street Rag, Appalachian Heritage, and online journals, Wild Goose Poetry Review and Future Cycle Poetry. She is director and owner of Writers Circle, a studio fin Hayesville, NC for writing and writers. She also teaches at the John C. Campbell Folk School and Tri-County Community College.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


These powerful days around the Celtic New Year have always pulled at my soul.  Today is All Saints Day or All Hallows.  I remember a poem of Louise Gluck's that I loved many years ago.  I'd say it's haunted me ever since I first read it and remains a favorite, although I've found her later work less compelling.  My sequence HALLOWS follows Gluck's poem.  This was written for my grandmother, who is the "saint" in the second section;  the third honors All Souls Day, also known as El Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico and Central America.  For All Souls Day (tomorrow), I will share a poem by my friend Glenda Beall, who lives in Hayesville, North Carolina


Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
Sleep in their blue yoke,
The fields having been
Picked clean, the sheaves
Bound evenly and piled at the roadside
Among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
Of harvest or pestilence
And the wife leaning out the window
With her hand extended, as in payment,
And the seeds
Distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Louise Gluck



These leaves at my window,
death-speckled black oak and blood-maple,

fall to the earth into which
she was sealed, leaving me

to imagine I see through the hollows 
of what were her eyes how another day 

breaks on the backs of the scrub pines
that stand up to welcome it.

She was no saint.
She never fasted,
and if she prayed, 
I never heard her

aside from the Lawsy
she uttered as down
she sank onto the dark
of the chamber pot 
while I tried to be sleeping.

She stirred up the fire
to a roar every morning and beat
the dough smooth, shoved it into the oven
to bake and be eaten. When I hear Pavarotti 
sing Panis Angelicus,  I see her hands
deep in the dough bowl,

and I hear the fire in the stove rumble,
I hear her clucking and sighing,
she who could never on this earth
deliver unto any table a dry piece of cornbread,
whose old-fashioned cakes
that lay solid as flesh on the  plates
put to shame every paper-thin
slice of the town-ladies’ angelfood cakes.
Any honest- to-god  angel

 would have preferred them,
a dollop of whipped cream atop
every thick slice and after that, oh, 
just a touch of  her Christmas divinity.

Los Muertos.  The dead.
They are out there this morning, 
in the woods with the busy  squirrels 
laying up treasures on earth, 
this  heaven of acorns and walnuts.
This granary.

These last dawns before the leaves go,
I wake early to watch from the window
my  dead ones out there in the woods
leaf by  leaf come
to rest on the ground 
where at last they have nothing 
to say beyond what’s meant 
to lie on the earth and be claimed by it.
from Coming To Rest, LSU Press

Friday, October 28, 2011


On the Saturday of the 100,000 Poets for Change Day, which also happened to be Western Carolina University's Mountain Heritage Day, I sent my poem "Mountain Time" to our NC legislatures and to our Jackson County Commissioners. Poets don't really expect to get responses to their work from legislators and other busy people in government.  

But lo and behold, I received from Commissioner Doug Cody a  response about living here in these mountains.  Turns out we have friends in common and a common interest in preserving our heritage.
A few weeks later, I emailed him my poem "Timberline," and just yesterday, he emailed this sensitive, moving response.    He has given me permission to share his reply, which I do gladly, along with the  hope that we have more mountain men like Mr. Cody willing to take care of the "mother trees" that keep our forests alive.

"A beautiful but sad description of the slow, agonizing demise of that magnificent sentinal of the forest, the mighty Hemlock.  It is so degrading for this beautiful giant to be felled by a cotton-draped gnat.  I am doing my best to save several of the larger specimens on my property, so far with great success.  One 75 foot tall specimen I call "the Mother Tree" graces the entrance to my driveway.  I named her that because she is loaded with cones every year and over the years she has given birth to literally hundreds of offspring.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to save most of little ones but "Mother Tree" is alive and well.  I will attach a photo of her with one of her cones still attached.  When doing my chores I purposely caress her branches just to enjoy that subtle Hemlock fragrance.  As long as I am able, "Mother Tree's" circle of life will not be broken. "

I told Mr. Cody that I had  a Mother Tree, too, down in SW Georgia where I grew up, an old oak 
I sat under many an afternoon.   

Here's a poem by my friend and hair stylist Sara Bishop Morgan, who loves trees, too.  Sara was one year ahead of my daughter at Smoky Mountain High School, so I've kept an eye on her ever since the two of them were in Girl Scouts together.   Her son Elijah is now a Boy Scout!   His poem "The Tree Seed of Love" was featured here in August.

 How easy it is to become distracted, in a hurry, and so forget to "tree see."  It happens to me all the time as I rush to Ingle's for more of this or that,
shuffling through the numerous lists I make to try to bring my life into some sort of order, searching yet again for my bifocals, my car keys, my checkbook.  


There are things on which I ponder
a bird chatterings, speaking of the coming spring.

Thoughts of what the trees whisper amongst each other,
as the new growth thrives up and under.

Magical winds doing their dances all just to ruffle
the leafy canopy in search of the greenest shade of green

Might I, if hushed I remain, hear their songs to God they sing?

All these I wonder while standing in the presence of these giants.  
I feel so  small looking upward through their glory

And for just a time, the swaying of their branches have staved off my world's 
worry, their earthy scent filling my nostrils, 

I remembered to breathe, and tree see.

Sara Bishop Morgan

Thursday, October 27, 2011


We all carry memories that stretch back forever into our childhoods, and who knows if those memories are really the first ones, or if they tell their  stories truthfully. How can we know if every detail of a memory is the way it actually was?  We cling to enough of what happened to give that memory its lasting power, its way of helping us know who we are and where we come from.

This little poem tries to capture what I've come to think of as my first memory.  I can feel the heat of the wood stove, feel my grandmother's hands as she buttoned my dress, see the light off the car windows outside.  It was Saturday.  The wind was everywhere.  We were going into town, that small Southern town that on Saturday became the center of the universe.   Cold was coming on fast.  Halloween was approaching.   The two women dressing me became larger than life as I remember this afternoon.  And the wind whistling and howling around the house!  Such a mystery to me, that wind could take the house I loved and make it sing.   This poem still gives me pleasure because it keeps that memory fresh and lively.

Cold Spell

I remember the stove’s  black belly
we huddled beside that afternoon,
the three of us,
two old and one young,
the wind whistling round the house.
It’s the corners make it sing, my grandmother said,
the sharp edges.
The windows rattled,
the day outside bright as the sun
on the Studebaker’s windshield I squinted
toward while they were dressing me
in my little white slip edged in lace,
and my little pink socks cuffed in lace,
and my Sunday-best dress with the hem
hitched up every two inches
so I could see more lace whenever
I sashayed around.
Because I was a girl.
I was their girl.
Their hands on my  body were cold,
their mouths clicked and chirped.
The wind howled.

from Catching Light, LSU Press

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


At the first whisper of cool air in the fall, my husband asks me for Pepper Pot Soup.  I began fixing this soup years ago with my ancient Joy of Cooking,  pictured above.   Look at the stains and splats of lord knows what on its pages.  It no longer has covers.  This was a wedding gift from Newt and June Smith, colleagues and friends who live in Tuckasegee, a few miles down the road from us.

Naturally  you need peppers.  I use several of them, along with onion, and strips of bacon sliced into small lengths.   I saute these around in my iron "spider" as my grandmother called it, until they look ready to have stock added to them.  This time I used a blend of chicken and vegetable stock that had in my freezer.  I try to avoid store-bought stock, with its high sodium content and goodness knows what else in it.

My husband likes this soup HOT, so I add whatever comes to hand, most recently a fine jalapeno sauce from Stripling's General store outside Cordele.  (Their logo: YOU NEVER SAUSAGE A PLACE.)   No relation to my branch of Stripling.  This worked its fiery magic.  Highly recommended.  Stripling's has a website and facebook page, so you can order online.
      I'm a big fan of their locally baked cakes, the label being Just Scratchin', and I think their pound cakes are about the best I've ever tasted.
       If you are outside Cordele, Ga. in the neighborhood of Lake Blackshear, you owe it to yourself to stop by Striplings and buy a cake, some hot sauce, and some freshly ground sausage.   Their bacon looks pretty good, too.

While the soup was simmering, blending all those delicious autumnal flavors, I whipped up some cornbread, adding some hot sauce to it, as well.  Then I let it stay too long in the oven, thanks to my laptop and facebook, so it needed a whole lot of butter on it to be palatable.  I apologized to my husband for this oversight.   He was so happy with the soup, though, that I don't think he minded.

Here's the recipe for the soup.

Cut into small pieces and saute in heavy saucepan till clear:
4 slices bacon,
Add and simmer for 5 minutes:
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup minced celery
2 seeded, minced green peppers
(I tsp.  marjoram or summer savory)  I use what I have.  Sage works ok.
Wash and cut into fine shreds:
3/4 lb. honeycomb Tripe------(No way.   I've never used tripe.  I remember it from childhood. But if you like it, go for it.)

Put into the above ingredients
8 cups brown stock
1 bay leaf
12 tsp. ground pepper (I use more.)
Bring this to the boiling point, add
I cup raw peeled and diced potatoes.
Simmer the soup, uncovered, until potatoes are tender.
Melt 2 tblspoons butter and stir in till blended 2 tablespoons flour.
Add a little of the soup to this mixture in a small stove proof vessel
and bring to boiling, then pour into rest of the soup.   (I confess I usually just add this without boiling to the soup and stir well while it's thickening.)
Just before serving add 1/2 cup warm cream.  (  Well, I usually add fat-free sour cream since I don't keep cream around the house.  That works pretty well.  Fat-free half and half would, too.  Or, what the heck, if you want to go whole-hog, get some real cream at the store.  Life is short.)

We love this recipe.  You will, too.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011


 Mickey Mahaffey sent the words below  as a comment on my last post, but I must give them their own post  because they are drawn from his memoir Whispers Of My Blood, which I'm now reading. What a journey, what a transformation this book gives us, written in what comes closer to poetry than prose.  Mickey is from Hendersonville, a former student of my husband's many years ago.  He now lives in Mexico, where he conducts guided tours into Copper Canyon in Chihuahua. Go to his web site to read much more about him, watch a video, and learn about the Sierra Madre where he now lives.  

"The rising flames of my campfire cast an ethereal glow across the meadow of green nettle and mayflowers and illuminate the trunks of the massive trees. Silhouettes of dead tress lean against the living ones, life and death interpenetrated, and the ones half rotted on the ground supply sustenance to untold species of burgeoning life. The electric buzz a million cicadas and crickets suffuse the wilderness. I sense the proximity of black bears and coyotes and rattlesnakes.
     The presences of the living woods expose my egotisms. The clear light of the vital fire pierces my illusions of self-deception and consumes the false gods that bedim my vision.My blood whispers to me from the ancient of days.Now, nothing stands between my heart and the heart of the palpable earth. I sing quietly with the voice of my soul in the temple of the living and dying.

     I imagine my death, my body rotting beneath the dirt like the trees in their holy cemetery. I see the worms and maggots, flies and gnats, vultures and four-legged beasts feasting upon my body. What was once a nightmare of horrors upon horrors is a sober reality. Rot and new birth interwoven. No more fantasies of angels and streets paved with gold; only the loamy dirt and life at the root of existence."

Mickey Mahaffey is a singular American explorer, a fearless saunterer across our modern-day dilemmas of faith and faithlessness, who has written a deeply personal and poetic memoir of his extraordinary life. Once a legendary Appalachian kid preacher and star athlete, Mahaffey's fall from grace led to him to an agonizing period on the streets, insane asylums, among shattered families and the dark woods of outcasts, until he began a journey of healing, literally walking himself back to a state of redemption. From the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, the hip streets of Asheville, to the remote canyons of the Sierra Madre in Mexico, Whispers of My Blood unfolds a spellbinding chronicle of a quest for forgiveness, love and renewal.
------- Jeff Biggers, American writer, editor, journalist, and critic

Saturday, October 22, 2011


       Opening my eyes in the morning,  I turn to  the window beside our bed.  The trees are always there, this morning looking stoic against a gray sky.  When I look straight ahead I see my full length mirror reflecting  amber leaves through the sun room windows in my office.  Just inches above that reflection hangs a painting by Cindy Davis:  trees cradling a full moon, their roots reaching all the way down to the edge of the painting.  They appear to be floating in a blue ether, these trees of a woman's imagination.  Their roots delicate, yet determined.
          Humans were once thought to have sprung from trees.  The image of Daphne being transformed into a tree to escape  a lecherous  Apollo rises up in my memory.   She prays to the river god to save her and he turns her into a laurel tree.   Just in the nick of time.  At the edge of the threshold beyond which lies violation.   How many women have wished to become such a  tree, I wonder, sinking their roots into the soil where they live, free of the duties and dangers of womanhood?
          What do we do when the soil that we sink our roots into has become violated by what rises and flows from the power plants that enable us to turn the lights on when we awaken each morning?   That enable me to lie late in bed (it's Saturday, after all) with my laptop, typing this meditation on trees?
             That the ground upon which we stand is being violated, that the river where my small daughter and I sat, throwing sticks into the current, has been woven through with contaminants I can't even pronounce , that the air itself teams with dust that is not the cosmic dust we've been told has circulated through  space since the moment of creation but the dust from power plants, riding the currents for hundreds of miles, how do I hold that reality in my head this morning as I stare out my windows, feeling the usual surge of gratitude that I live in a place where not only can I see trees from every window of my house....but  I can also shove my feet into my bedroom scuffs and go walk outside among them, drinking my second cup of coffee?

That's a long sentence, that one I just strung together. But it doesn't come close to linking all the images, the fears, the reflections I carry in my mind this morning, waking up after two days of hearing about and seeing what has been happening to our homeland here in the mountains.  And beyond.  "We are losing our homes," says seventh generation ballad singer and longtime friend Sheila Kay Adams, a native of nearby Madison County.  We are losing the very "ground" of home, it seems, and not only the literal sod but also our connections to it and the people who live around us.
           The trees have always been my refuge, whether I stand at the window looking at them or go walking into their  leafy presence.  The Appalachian mountains are the "vegetation cradle" of North America.  They have cradled us, as well.  That cradle needs our care.  Our tending.
              It needs our lullabyes, our love songs, our hands and minds watching over it.
              Maybe we should for a moment in our imaginations become Daphnes, feeling our roots sinking deep into soil, our leaves clinging or letting go,  squirrels skittering over our branches while our dogs yap below, eager to give chase.
             Or maybe they are just pissed off because we have all suddenly disappeared and their supper bowls sit empty on the porch!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BLACK LUNG, by R. T. Smith

The legacy of coal is one of environmental devastation and human exploitation.  The poem below, by my friend R. T. Smith, author of numerous books of poetry and fiction, expresses that reality by focusing on the Appalachian singer and song-writer Hazel Dickens.  Rod's poem gives voice to the grief and pain that has come from the mines and the blight of mountain-top removal.  In the few days before Western Carolina University's ROOTED IN THE MOUNTAINS conference begins, I can think of no more powerful voice than this to sound the warning about the threats to the mountains we love.  

Black lung 
R. T. Smith 

When Hazel Dickens watched her brother die 
of the miner’s curse, the room shook with weeping, 
and she thought, So much cold sweat, so many tears, 
the womenfolk might’s well be mining salt. 

As a child singing “Man of Constant Sorrow” 
in the shadowed kitchen of a sharecropper’s shack, 
she knew even hymns burned their truest 
when you could hear keening beneath the praise. 

Singing for the rights of ridgers and diggers, 
she kept that note close, a ruined lung’s gasp. 
Hazel sang lovelorn, ever angry for the hungry. 
She learned Maybelle’s lick to teach the guitar 

to mourn. In her heart she found a sound 
with the beauty of redbuds stained dark 
as a seam of blood coal—pick and drill, carbide 
light, blind mules and men’s skin shiny 

as a wet crow’s feather. She gave it throat 
and breath, the lyrics edged across her teeth, 
and would not be muzzled for the sake of tact 
or cash. The maverick activist stood stern 

in the city, her flowery skirt and blouse 
plain that autumn day at the Folklife Fest. 
Aiming for relief, she unleashed nervy words, 
the feel of scars, dust deadly as pepper, 

grief as wives turn widows and daughters 
sob, the greed of companies restless to rob. 
“Black lung, black lung” she wailed, “your hand’s 
icy cold, as you reach for my life and you torture

my soul.”  Could she picture poor Thurman 
frozen in his coffin? She felt a mortal chill 
riddle her bones. Even the hecklers hushed 
when she finished with: “a good man is gone.” 

In the bowels of the mountain, maybe a calm 
touched the seam and the air felt sweet 
and clean, but soon on hogback ridges 
the riven earth was night-struck again, and men 

underground breathed their last. Now we pray 
whatever snow God allows will never halt 
her hard song amid the tears and sweat. 
Can we get an amen here before this whole 

suffering country is sown with salt?


Sunday, October 16, 2011


MOUNTAIN WOMAN: SUNDAY FIRE: Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves.... Elinor Wylie And so it has seemed, watching the wind scatter the fiery leaves...


Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves....
   Elinor Wylie

And so it has seemed, watching the wind scatter the fiery leaves hither and yon,
as we sit under our Tulip Poplar watching.

I want to gather them  to me, hold them close.  Cling to this day.

Else lie among them, breathing in the scent of autumn hastening away.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


When I first saw Barbara Bates Smith do her one woman show based on Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, I was so overcome that by the end, I needed a box of kleenex.  I think Barbara was a bit taken aback by my emotional response!   So was I.  I had become Ivy Rowe as I listened to Barbara become Ivy--girlhood, childbirth, widowhood, old age.  Each time I see Barbara perform, whether it's Lee's On Agate Hill or several of her short stories, I have a similar reaction, though I know by now to keep the tissue close by so as not to embarrass myself.  Or Barbara.
I remember Barbara telling about presenting Ivy Rowe in Lee's hometown of Grundy, Virginia.  The only correction Lee had to make during rehearsal was her pronunciation of "bury."  
 It had to be "burry."  Yes, indeed.  And I still remember the announcement in the Sylva Wal-mart a few years back, "Will the woman who wanted the chocolate covered churries please come to Health & Beauty."  Barbara offers her post on the rewards of performing Lee's characters, followed by a video of the closing scene of  On Agate Hill.  
And for those of us in the Jackson County area, Barbara will be presenting a Christmas program, Deck the Halls with Southern Writers at the new Jackson County Library in Sylva on November 29th.  She will read from work by Lee,  Allen Gurganus, Truman Capote and she's included one of my own poems.  Don't miss it.  And don't worry if your memory is as fallible as mine.  I'll keep reminding everybody about it.

Barbara Bates Smith as Ivy Rowe

Lee Smith
She’s turned into a mountain woman. She’s moved to the mountains, she plays the dulcimer, she clogs, she’s taken up quilting.  She’s turned into Ivy Rowe!” That’s what prizewinning novelist Lee Smith has said about me. I’m proud of that. An actress by trade, I’d been touring with my one-woman show, “Ivy Rowe,” based on the spunky Appalachian heroine of Lee’s novel, Fair and Tender Ladies. And I’d moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina, a perfect base for touring. I’d taken a lot of teasing from my peers: “You’re just trying to become this mountain woman you’ve been portraying.”  Yes! AndIvy Rowe” and I are still going strong with close to 700 performances.
Lee says that when she wants to empower a heroine, she sends her to the mountains. And I myself have become further empowered thereby—adding a musical accompanist and other Lee Smith works such as “On Agate Hill” to my repertoire.

Lee asks if I ever get tired of playing Ivy Rowe.  Never.  I love it every time. If six months go by with no Ivy, I get restless. This mountain woman both grounds me and lifts me up. The way she looks life in the face, says yes to it, makes mistakes, but always manages to “keep on keepin’ on.”  Sometimes I don’t know where she ends and I begin. I don’t care. I’m having too much fun.!"