POETICS: 3 Poems by Doug Van Gundy

“A People’s History of Randolph Co., WV”

Imagine how it used to be. 
All that remains now are stones and ghosts.  You can’t
look at the old topographical maps and see
the places where the miners used to live
even the names of the settlements are missing:
Jeff Scotts, Laurel, Roaring Creek Junction.
If you go there today,
bush-whack through briers and joe-pye.
You will have to
dig into the ground to find anything
to prove that people ever even lived here.

To prove that people ever even lived here,
dig into the ground.  To find anything 
you will have to 
bush-whack through briers and joe-pye
if you go there today.
Jeff Scotts, Laurel, Roaring Creek Junction: 
even the names of the settlements are missing,
the places where the miners used to live.
Look at the old topographical maps and see:
all that remains now are stones and ghosts.  You can’t
imagine how it used to be.

~ first published in "Kestrel"

“The Back Yard by Twilight”

WestVirginiaVille.com photo-illustration | july2022
These are the hours I love the best, 
when the golden light of summer has climbed 
to the top of the abandoned building next door 

and all of the neighborhood 
cats have come out from the woodpile 
beneath the back porch to carouse and fight 

and the cicadas and katydids 
and grey tree frogs begin advertising 
in the cacophonous personals section of the woodlot 

and the dog can no longer 
find his tennis ball in the tall grass 
at the edge of the woods 

and the scent of citronella wafts across the crabgrass 
and mingles with the smell of the deep fryer 
from the restaurant down the hill 

and the air grows heavy and moist 
and the sound of the traffic on the 
four-lane highway takes on a veiled quality 

and the mind cast back to houses left 
and wives divorced 
and favorite uncles gone to ashes 

and the blue-white of the sun 
is reflected in a satellite’s 
long aching arc across the sky 

and the windows open 
and the box fan comes on 

and the neighbor’s dogs catch the scent 
of something toothy and wild 
and set themselves about sounding the alarm 

and the faint bruised smell of a skunk 
seems to arrive at just the same time 
as the fireflies 

and the early windfall apples 
fall without any wind at all.

~ first published in "Ecotone"

“Roaring Creek”

WestVirginiaVille.com photo-illustration | july2022
I returned today to a childhood place, a deep-water hole 
along the lower reaches of Roaring Creek. The stream 
was as it has always been for as long as I can remember:  
window-pane clear, emerald green, braided beneath rhododendron 
and feathery hemlock, totally bereft of life. Go there

tomorrow, wade in to your knees. Wince 
at the corporeal cold of water that remembers 
last winter’s snowfall. Reach in to your elbows, 
hand the heat in your fingers and feet to the stream. 
Turn all the rocks in its lumpy bed, all of them – 

you won’t find a single minnow or hellgrammite, 
not a crawdad nor mayfly or caddisfly larva. The surface 
hasn’t been dimpled by the feet of water-striders 
for over eighty years, and the deep green holes that harbored 
lunker brook trout hold only waterlogged branches 

and quartz pebbles stained pale orange with rust.  
Topo maps tell the tale: the headwaters of this and every stream
in the quadrangle rise in old strip mines, fractured earth
oozing acid drainage into creek beds 
like a biblical curse promising nothing 

will ever grow here again. It’s here I learned to swim, 
the water leaving my skin feeling soapy and smelling 
like a coffee can full of odd nails and bolts. 
Why has it never occurred to me until now what was ruined here,
and what will never return, and how angry I ought be?

~ first published in "Appalachian Journal"

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