“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”
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"
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"