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Photographs From the Mountain Empire

ISSUE:  Summer 1991
They collect in the shade of pin-oaks,
Sunday, after lunch, coats off,

sleeves rolled and chairs,
brought into the yard, tipped back.

The ones who can name them all
are dead or gone in memory

and the time hasn’t come when you smile
at unknown devices

so they rest and look from the shade.


Cane-back, snake and rider, double stitch.
Pie safe, swing blade, chain trace.

Tail and squeal were all they wasted.
Peach halves glowed like lantern wicks

in the dirt-walled cellar.

Far down in December
you could sicken on those banked sugars.


They birthed each other,
cut teeth on each other,

picked up pieces the saw dropped
to keep them from the dogs.

They damned each other,
smeared the same jar

with finger dirt.

They shaved a deal,
came to blows, shots

and all the women gathered
to wash the body.


Lard smoked for reading John.

Tick, chigger and poison oak
smouldered along the beltline.

Split oak seasoned in ricks.
Pine gummed the chimney.

Farther up the mountain
cousin sparked cousin.


“You didn’t miss what you didn’t know.”
But town came out.

Kids got afraid of the dark.
Clear-cut, chestnut oak was left

to rot to make a path
for those drooping ropes

of electricity.


After Revelations, scratched
on a few blank pages,

the known generations.
Sparrel T. and Governor,

who held no office,
is as far back as anyone

thought to write down.


At the annual gathering,
she reigns over potluck

from her webbed lawn chair,
one hundred and three frail

pounds, from which
this crowd fell.


“Smack a fart out of you that hums like a jarfly,”
my uncle said when I corrected his English.

Spring apple bough or witch hazel,
the booted group couldn’t agree

but well-rig, dump trucks and back hoe
waited until the rattling pick-up arrived.

He got it from his grandfather,
followed the wand around the site

then said, “Here, drill here.”


Hogs do headstands,
joyous in rendering.

Grandma, aunts,
unmarried uncles reach in,

smiling for the new camera.

The hogs are dressed,
and one sports a fly

on the white meat
like a beauty mark.


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