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National Poetry Month, Day 2

Submitted by Mark Cox

She will agree, if you back her into a corner, that it is

Well past time to rejoin the living–memories are disembodied

Ghosts which after having been invited to lunch, decide to stay

The week usually–but her acquiescence, and nod, will come sheepishly half-hearted.

She has, for half a century now, consciously elected to remain

In the red-shuttered white farmhouse she helped Ed build

Where peals of laughter roaring from decades past

Resonate within the walls of her soul if nowhere else.

Quietly she slips her needle in and out of triangles and octagons

above a firkin box of thread spools, scissors, antique thimbles,

and puffy pin cushions.  Her concerto grosso– a cacophony of

cicadas,  katydids’, and the occasional whippoorwill– fills her senses

ten times better than some fancy concert hall ever might.

She wonders why–If the present is so wonderful–there is

Such a dearth of smiles nowadays.  Time was when smiles weren’t rationed

Into time blocks between puerile reality TV shows, mindless jabs

Of buttons on cellular phones, and catatonic sessions in front of

computer screens; somewhere along the line everyone had missed

the fact that with the indolent life of invention and ease

came the sudden death of personality and distinction.

She has heard every argument–for and against–

progress and convenience, and has concluded that an unfathomable

amount of benefit and virtue is to be gained in the effort of  life’s pursuits,

which she sums up in one of her succinct and rather quaint idioms:

If too much is freely handed out, it won’t be appreciated”and–

If a body ain’t careful will soon be expected.

She is excruciatingly aware that the opinions of Dr. Marie Thompson

With her crisp suit, spurious half-smile, and pointed questions

Carry a great deal of weight in determining whether she will remain

At home with her memories of Appalachia or be involuntarily admitted

To the Lifesteps Geriatric adult day services facility over in Kingsport

Where undoubtedly the song of the crickets, bullfrogs, and owls

Will be replaced by the chatter from the nurses’ station

Where bored coffee swilling workers will talk only

Among themselves and refuse to look at the magic mirrors

Which show them images of themselves a few years removed.

Ed has left her with ten thousand memories–good memories–

Any one of which on occasion will elicit a broad smile connoting

Some esoteric reason for its rapid and unexpected appearance to

A face punctuated by laugh lines, crow’s feet and well weathered crinkles

Situated–somehow beautifully–around two bright sapphires

which can still catch the light and dance with fire, as anyone

who happens to be watching her quilting beneath the Single porch-light fixture

with its dangling pull-string and dozen circling moths can attest.

She will admit that her life has been a hard go at times

But she allows that triumph through fire is to be preferred–

and is vastly more rewarding–than things that just show up.

Her and Ed were never ones to let life come to them, they reached

Out and grabbed it, squeezing every drop of happiness it would

Yield–and the Good Lord respected that–she surmises with

A reverential smile that confirms it as unquestionable truth.

She will a narrate a story flipping pages of scenic color

from a mind as of yet unravaged by Alzheimer’s

with a fervor and oratory style reserved For those twice blessed

with the gift of song and voice which she exercises beautifully:

She and Ed didn’t have the time to give the great depression much thought.

They waded Spicewood creek catching black Hellgrammites

And climbed a thousand trees gathering Catawba worms

To sell to the TVA workers headed up to the lake but they

Laughed and smiled together all along the journey.

Those smiles and laughter from a bright yesterday are now sewn into

A dozen tight and perfect ten-sided polygons cut

From the fabric of Ed’s old green shirt”and–from the

Fabric of memory.

She understands something about long term memory

that the doctors cannot grasp– The elderly

Only know of two roads:  the one by which the hayfields

Sway and the old schoolhouse stands,  running some

Two miles past Hayes filling Station winding upward

past Grayson’s weathered barn and it’s emerald cornfields

and onward to the single-lane bridge crossing Gilmer creek

which leads to home, and the one which leads to someplace

altogether dim and unfamiliar.

A choice has to be made; Forward to the swirling haze

Or back down the road toward home. And smiles.

-Mark Cox (originally posted at his blog XOCKRAM)

Mark Cox is  originally from Bristol, Tennessee (which, he says, might explain why the piece has a decidedly Appalachian flavor…)  Though he humbly called his piece “very amateur free-verse” I don’t see anything amateur in this poem. Tone, voice, imagery, and subject matter meld deftly to create a real experience for the reader. Don’t you agree?

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