Two poems from a long while back

I'm sharing two poems that were published back in the mid 1990s in a little Georgia magazine, Red Mountain Rendezvous. The first, "White Gate Prison" is a draft where I surrendered after 14 years of trying to get the best words and images I could think of: words for an important journey...a trip I took by car with my mother and one of my aunts. I was five years old. We traveled from Ferrum to Bland Correctional Unit, a federal prison farm just inside Bland County by the border of Giles. I don't remember the roads we traveled, except for Route 42 where I saw many trees glistening with sleet. I remember my aunt and mother becoming concerned about ice on the pavement. And I remember seeing my father for a little time.

The second poem, "Buren Pendleton" is a poem about a grandfather I never met. Buren Clyde Pendleton died when my mother was six years old. Of the little that I know about him, he was a marvelous fiddler, and he would call the dance moves at square dances. My grandmother and my grandfather Buren had seven daughters. I enjoy legends about the Pleiades because of the seven stars / seven sisters stories there. I have a few not so good drafts of poems about them.

One note: some Saponi people lived in the area well into the 1800s. Some of my ancestral surnames were the same as surnames among these folks, but I have not yet matched up direct connections.

Another note: Jack's Creek is a small stream flowing into Smith River near Woolwine in Patrick County. Jack's Creek Covered Bridge is there, of course, a landmark you can visit, just off Route 8. A couple of miles from there is another covered bridge: the Bobwhite Covered Bridge. Not far from Jack's Creek is Jill Creek. I may yet have to write my own rendition of a Jack and a Jill fetching something up the hill. This area of Patrick County is just a short ride from Rocky Knob and Rock Castle Gorge on the Parkway


Father stood in his cell with me,
there was sleet outside and a field
which carried me like a shadow.
His nerves were drunk with evening
and ridges that defined winter
as a place full of deer and dogs.

He asked who gutted the steer
and I said "nobody" because it stood
in the shed like a toy animal
refusing cornstalks and grain.
Its bony shoulders
rubbed and rubbed against a post.

And then my aunt and mother stood up
like women aiming to tell some truth
on his fears and dreams.
The firewood was sold.
The fences were still strong.
The hay bales listened to children and mules.
The frozen creek took a long time to thaw.


He played Jack's Creek to live
fiddling and calling the dances.
One night he heard cries like a child,
maybe a panther flew like a ghost in the woods,
maybe a child squealed to mock Woolwine.

He had a wife and seven daughters
near a creek where the Saponi were bones.
He wanted to hear their songs.

Instead he heard his name in the boneset:
sickly come home, weary be cold.
Then his name dissolved.
Then he dreamed he sang Barbara Allen
to the wild stones in the twining briers.

And he sang his daughters to their dreams.
He learned fictions. He kept news.
But he could not coax away the silence:
it was born, it could haunt.

Copyright 2009, Clyde Kessler