Thursday, March 29, 2012



Relections on Place was the title of the event Monday night at the Sylva Public Library, celebrating the installation of Western Carolina University's new chancellor, David Belcher.  Jerry Wolfe, Ron Rash, and I presented our stories and poems for an appreciative audience, one containing several good friends I've not seen in a long while, including Gayle Woody, Nancy DeSain, Joyce and Allen Moore--and a few facebook friends I'd not met in the flesh!  I closed my reading with this poem, first published in Warren Wilson College's Heartstone.   The quote from Adrienne Rich I have carried with me for years seems even more appropriate now, as we face the prospect of forgetting so much of our history, including our connection to the land.  Adrienne Rich died two days ago, leaving behind a poetic and feminist legacy that has nourished many of our lives.

                            Last Light      

The tests I need to pass are prescribed by the spirits
of place    who understand travel but not amnesia.
      from “This Is My Third and Last Address to You” --Adrienne Rich

Almost the age when memory falters,
I fear being made to count backward
by seven’s, to answer to date, year, and
Presidents, as if  those numbers and names
matter more in the end  than this place
where I stand at the same kitchen window,
observing the same pines set swaying by wind,
reaching upward as I’ll reach, come morning,
my arms to the ceiling, breathing the dark out
of  body and spirit, exhaling that  old dream 
of nothingness: laying my head down to sleep.

Now Rocky Face Ridge catches fire
in the last light and, though I can’t hear it
from where I stand, Cullowhee Creek tumbles into
the Tuckaseegee, always unscrolling beneath me
the names I already know.  Snowbird.
Buzzards Roost.  Weyahutta.  Oconaluftee.

.                        3.

I don’t know how long names can last 
if there’s no one to care where they live. 
What I saw on the hairpin curve down from
the Chimney Tops, white as snow, I’ve not forgotten.
Phacelia.  And how, on the trail leading
up to the summit of Suncota Ridge,
I saw sauntering toward me a young woman
I could have sworn was the reincarnation of
every spring wildflower ever named anywhere.  


Closer she comes to me each April,
as if she means more than I have a lifetime
to know.  Roundabout her, her white Easter dress 
whispers every thing I want  to keep living
here in this valley that cups the last swallow of light,
every name I must reach to remember or else
lose them, hillside by hillside, to darkness. 



  1. What a wonderful poem. I am going to share it with my students next week. Thank you! J

    1. Thank you back, J. I'm glad this poem will be put to good use!

  2. My Dear Kay, I love this poem so much I can almost recite it. It is one I want to commit to memory. Remember I got to include it in ECHOES ACROSS THE BLUE RIDGE. It is one of the strongest lyric poems I know--a personal poem of place drenched in emotion. Thanks for this post. It is my medicine for the day.

    1. Dearest Nancy, thank you for dropping by. I know this one is in Echoes and I so appreciate your choosing it for inclusion. It was an important poem for me to write, and I'm glad it resonates with others. love, K

  3. Reading this just before bed - tomorrow I head to Clemson to participate in an art evening out. It is my farthest trip from home and I am bringing about 100 pinhole camera images from the mountains to share in addition to the books and banners already there. Just reviewed the slides I will have running in a loop - I have so many images and can't print them all but I can't stop trying to get more. I just love the photographs because they feel like your poem - it is this place.

    1. Phyllis, I wish we could spend several days together just going through you photographs and my poems--I hope the evening at Clemson went well.

  4. I particularly love the first verse. Wonderful poem, Kay.
    Your poetry inspires us all who strive to one day inspire others.

    1. Glenda, you know that your poems inspire others, as does your presence. I'm glad you moved from SW Ga. to the mountains.

  5. Kay, as always, I'm in awe of your ability to say such complex things with such seeming simplicity
    while putting musical beauty into the whole. Wonderful.

  6. Joan, thank you for being such a faithful visitor. Speaking of music, the birds have singing their hearts out lately. We have a cardinals' nest right outside our livingroom window!