Bed-sick she heard the bird's call
fall soft as a pall that night
quilts tightened around her throat,
her grey eyes narrowed, their light
(Watauga County, 1895)
Two lovers out walking found
more than spring's promised blessing
Some thought she had slipped, the plank
glazed slick with ice, or maybe
already cold beyond care,
drowsy and weary, bare feet
If they had hair it was gray,
the backs of their hands wormy
currents of blue veins, old men
the undertaker believed
The lost can stay lost down here,
in laurel slicks, false-pathed caves.
Too much too soon disappears.
The night smoothes out its black tarp,
tacks it to the sky with stars.
Lake waves slap the bank, define
a shoreline as one man casts
Sometimes I'd spend the whole night coughing up
what I'd been breathing in all day at work.
I'd sleep in a chair or take a good stiff drink,
anything to get a few hours rest.
Barbed wire snags like briars when
fence posts rot in goldenrod,
the cows are gone, the cowpath
a thinning along the creek
Between Wytheville, Virginia
and the North Carolina line,
he meets a wagon headed
where he's been, seated beside