Of Birds And Men In Appalachia - Poem by Lamont Palmer
Flying in on the envy of watchers comes the dive,
as much drawn by wind as by helpless air,
as by the tiny plume, so truthful in motion,
on to where the mountains rise into view.
The Blue Ridge startles the innocent chimes
of mind that ring in both hemispheres,
in both the cutting through oxygen like feathers
were knives, beholden only to the handlers of air.
Whiteness is to the sea, as wing is to wave,
and as human eye is to encroaching vision.
Birds and men caught in some evolutionary picture;
the one held on the ground is the one dreaming of the sky,
(though borrowed fictionally in a Hitchcockian nightmare)
it is the one unknown which is wished to be known,
and one trapped in a poverty, a constant, fluttering hunger,
flings its scanning sight at the solidity of flesh.
No more discriminate we were, in the necessity
of our sight, where guns played no part,
and fear played no part, but only the thick air
could make these sprawled hills a natural home.
Seasons are memorable, grandstanding in their images,
on the edge of towns that are slowly vanishing.
So is it so simple to keep a bird in view,
while keeping in view a heralded journey?
The blankness of poverty, the outlawing of pockets
is no match for the glint and glimmer of flight.
These were ashen white faces. By the time
of leaving, the dirt roads had proper names,
and the trailers entered an indoctrination that
would never die, but only live in a wide firmament.
Soil is an image. Ragged dresses hang limply.
All is grounded, except the ones who demand attention
from the earth. And we see it, as watchers, seers, or
anyone who possesses a searing inner eye.
Fairmount or Morgantown; their steep streets go steeper still:
the thinner the air gets, the deeper the ebullient touch,
and the whole of West Virginia keeps its beauty, its wild places,
it's purity amid sullen verbs and strange lungs.
But who can go to places above the desolate cities?
Man has his own wings that flanks the terra firma mind.
Character resides in the blackest of coal,
not just the nucleus of fuel, the residual of fragments,
but to wind up in the caves, the fortified spaces
digging for this unique gold, puts the facial smudges
on par with what is driven in the pursuit of life,
what is fine, as the brilliant feathers of fertile flyers.
Cities touch death again and again,
but touches it deliberately, in the sustenance of days.
Mineshafts don't house birds. But from the heart,
the sober heart, is the reality of these birds,
singing, because they know these tough-faced men
need the music in their chilly, brief lives.
Coal camps, dusky as the surface of coal
sprung up, only to die in the mist
of years, diminished, impacted by breathlessness,
and the desire to see what soars with the clouds.
Isolated behind these mountains,
suns from other worlds do not touch them,
buried depths of raw energy,
a black death is sacrificed, like a space in the ground.
I knew a girl in Harpers Ferry who nudged me like an urgent cat
at night, when the moon hung low, a simple pale breast,
and endearments glowed, lighting each corner,
and nothing stopped the flesh from making song.
John Brown would've loved her; fiercely free, single;
the clear shine of her skin would incite him, like no slave state could.
She played a sly game of Scrabble;
pink cheeks illuminating the board at night,
and her chortles couched the whole of us
deep in the game and the game of peace.
It was a pleasure, in morning, to compete with
the chirping, circulating like the mountain air.
In flight patterns, life seems to have a clarity;
philosphy is reborn, drawn from thoughtful motion.
So many birds, so many places to dwell on soaring,
so many lives to bedazzle with diving.
There is a timeline, for man and beasts, and birds
of an open sky. From these green hills,
no less green than Hemingway's hills in Africa
if they were doused in the poetry of men,
and dispensed among patrons at some general store,
that is made from old wood, and old, mountainous hearts,
the breadth of closeness remains a stark thing.
Ruddy faces are brave for the helpful sun.
Even if we can only hear them from each window,
it is from each window, the flying body is revealed,
showing us just how high is each new cloud,
and how the circumference lends itself to life in valleys.
Men are not birds, but denizens of towns,
yet freely dream with sky-bound, spirited egos.
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