“Beating the Bounds”
Late summer trip to family farm with friends … we plan to work one day and run the next, a 10 mile jog “around the block” in training for upcoming half marathon. We rebuild wooden fence, mend a water gap with logs and wire placed across creek just so, to block any wandering cattle. As we sweat in August heat I think of tomorrow’s run through the countryside where I grew up, my mind offers up the term “beating the bounds” though god knows where I learned it. In former times when maps were rare, it was usual to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries on Ascension Day or during Rogation week. Not exactly a rogation, no prayer or fasting, though we do wash our sweat off in the cool opaque depths of farm pond, later the bread and wine are swapped for hot dogs and beer around campfire a sacrament all the same. then sleep under stars, fire dying down, waking soaked with dew and necks stiff setting out early before heat kicks in. The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who beat the parish boundary markers with green boughs, usually birch or willow, Sometimes the boys were whipped or violently bumped on the boundary stones to make them remember. we carry no boughs, and get no whippings, our steady footfalls on dusty gravel roads and sweat and labored breaths are offered up to Terminus, god of boundaries passing kinfolk cemetery, what used to be an apple orchard, bulldozed long ago, tree lines of shagbark hickory, white oak, crackling mantra of high voltage power lines … walk the geographic boundaries of their locality for the purpose of maintaining the memory of the precise location of these boundaries. While modern surveying techniques have rendered these ceremonial walks largely irrelevant … it feels like renewal of some important connection, a clearing of collective haze built up this second summer of pandemic time. we laugh and talk and keep on moving as hunger drives our stomachs homeward, one more rise, one more curve, turn into lane at black mailbox, circuit complete, we come to rest.
“4 days in june looking for a messiah”
I. Sunday night assembly in minor league ballpark where symphony is arrayed in tan dirt of infield playing “take me out to the ballgame” and threadbare Sousa marches as small shred of rainbow appears above horizon. Conductor, on pitcher’s mound announces concert cut short due to possible inclement weather, they strike up “stars and stripes forever” quickly drowned out by sizzle and boom as fireworks percuss night sky. We finish our tallboys of holy water and file out, where a “Christian Prophetess and Watchman” hands out business cards on the sidewalk. at home I click on a YouTube video from her twitter feed. She says Jesus has spoken to her, told her not to drink coffee or Redbull, that black tea is okay. I feel jealous of such direct communication with a higher power, then wonder if I would stop drinking coffee if Jesus told me to. II. On Monday, after suffering months of various indignities to your bladder; biopsies, chemical creams applied, chemo rinse injected via catheter, the doctor declares you cancer free. we heave sighs of relief. Later a friend texts us to go outside… We tumble out the door and look at the sky, where a brilliant double rainbow straddles the neighborhood. Could it be a sign? What does it all mean? III. Tuesday dawns humid, already smelling of wet dogs and sweat, asphalt and flowers… There is a mingling of traffic noise, alarm clocks, birdsong, and unidentifiable sounds of people going about their day. A friend suggests Corona was a womb for all of us. We self isolated, gestated in hot belly, some emerged stillborn, while others now push forth naked faces first. IV. Wednesday morning I sit drinking coffee on our stoop, thinking today will be like any other till we get the call. You fell a few times, carrying laundry basket, kneeling to adjust lawnmower, stepping out of shower, and today could not get out of bed, so … 911 call, hospital admission, diagnosis of massive stroke, first of several angioplasties interrupted by aneurism, urgent brain surgery. We drive north: Sissonville, Pocatalico, Goldtown, Silverton, Ravenswood, cross the Ohio River. We hover around your bed speaking words of love and reassurance like mantras, glancing at the container on your pillow plump and red with the fluid draining from your brain. We stare out windows at towering cumulonimbus immobile in midst of piercing blue sky. Blood thinners will help clots but risk cerebrum’s fine net. What your heart needs, your mind cannot abide.
Red Cross Blood Drive, Holiday Inn
vital signs finger stick iron check no dura mater brain graft no babeosis no sex or drugs for money not even once etc. lie on cot watching red frocked phlebotomist on break eating choco-taco from mylar wrapper hoping needle in elbow crook drains off the “bad blood” (& thought same when I emerged from parents’ pond with black leach firmly attached to ankle, mouth parts resisting my firm tugs.) my technician asks if B+ is written on my hand b/c that’s my blood type: answer=yes but don’t add that it’s also reminder about positivity which hasn’t been working so well the past few months. my pint is full, needle removed with lavender nitrile hands arm wrapped in red elastic I grab extra bags of cheez-its and chips ahoy, always like to give to wife & kids & say “I literally drained my lifeblood to get you these snacks.”
MORE BY JAMES COCHRAN
FIRST/PERSON: On the streets in “the capital of pain”: May 3, 2022: There are mayapples unfurling on the banks of the Kanawha River in the darkness of West Virginia’s capital city. There are humans sleeping there, too, on this cold and rainy April night, and we are among them.
READINGS: Three from “Corona Time Capsule”: September 10, 2021: ‘Feed Them on Peaches,’ ‘Grass Fire,’ and ‘¡Ya Basta!’ — three excerpts of poetry and prose from poet James Cochran’s forthcoming book “Corona Time Capsule.”
POEM: “Haymaking”: February 20, 2021: We cut, rake, and bale / till the sun goes down and the dew settles on the fields, / then start again next morning once the dew burns off …
STORY INDEX FOR JULY 2, 2022 WestVirginiaVille.com
1 | EDITORS/NOTE: About our ‘Memoirs of Daily Life’ Issue : To devote so many pages and pixels to writers, poets, and memoirists, and their dispatches from the front lines of their lives — or the imagined lives of characters — is not to step back from More Important Things. Poetry and prose are no less a form of truth-telling than the best investigative reports.
2 | FIRST/PERSON: Turtle Rescue Out on Pluto Road | by Joseph “Billy” Corduroy : “The first time I tried to save a turtle on the move it peed — or pooped, I’m not sure which — in my truck. I had stopped when I saw a box turtle in the middle of Pluto Road one afternoon maybe ten years ago. I hit my brakes right there in traffic. Fortunately, there was none ….”
3 | 5 QUESTIONS: For Two Poets Who Keep Running With Whiskey : How did West Virginia’s longtime Poet Laureate plus an MFA Creative Writing professor-poet-musician end up “Running With Whiskey” around West Virginia and the world? We have questions, they have answers. Plus, of course, poems.
4 | SHORT/STORY: “Salena” | by Jay Brackenrich : “Salena had never had anything beautiful, certainly never anything perfect. The nuns wrapped her in perfect clean blankets. She had a little cotton shirt, perfect. They asked for the name of the father. She said, “I don’t know.” They entered ‘Unknown’ into the blank box.”
5 | READINGS: “Montani Semper … Snapshots from an Appalachian Family Album” | by Ty Bouldin : Take a read on a WestVirginiaVille.com experiment in publishing longish excerpts from worthy, well-written books with a West Virginia connection, like “Montani Semper …”
6 | POETICS: 3 Poems by James Cochran : ‘She says Jesus / has spoken to her, told her not to drink coffee / or Redbull, that black tea is okay. / I feel jealous of such direct communication / with a higher power, then wonder if I would / stop drinking coffee if Jesus told me to …’
7 | FIRST/PERSON: A few highly personal words on choice | by Anonymous : “Three pregnancies. No choice in any of them. I have never chosen to get pregnant. I was foolish, I was sucker-punched, I was surprised. I was naïve, I was savvy. I wasn’t ready, I was ready. Such a basic right that everyone deserves. CHOICE.”
8 | POETICS: 3 Poems by Marc Harshman : ‘A fiddle tune bearing, rough-shod, / the memory of the village: / sunlight on stucco, / leaf-plastered paths in autumn, / spectral sheep / in moonlight and bracken, / the lilt of the market tongue, / ancient beyond telling …’
9 | MEMOIR: Why trappers with bloody hides wanted in my house | by Connie Kinsey : “One morning, I stumbled down to the kitchen when I heard a noise. There standing was an unkempt man holding bloody hides and smoking a cigarette. “Excuse me?” “I’m looking for Frank …”‘
10 | POETICS: 3 Poems by Doug Van Gundy : ‘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 …’
11 | PICTURE/SHOW: Traces of Faces in West Virginia Places | by Douglas John Imbrogno : Here is a selective round-up of people snapped doing their thing on the streets, in the alleys, and in the cigar bars of of West Virginia’s cities, towns, and outback.
12 | WATCH LIST: Here are some things to look at, West Virginia-wise | Check out this version of variations on “Country Roads” by the Kanawha Valley Community Band which channels Aaron Copeland; plus a video of a crazy fitness guy sledding around Charleston WV; and more.