Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Taking a Break, Y'all

I'm not sure if I have much of a readership, but I've found lately that this blog site of mine has felt like a daunting task hovering over me. "I need to write about my trip to Gettysburg, I should write about my daughter and I going camping at Lake James," or thoughts like that have been plaguing my mind.

I originally started this blog to document some of my life and thoughts as a writer, but now have decided to use the time and energy I had been channeling into this and spend more time really writing or just being with my family after work, instead of sitting in front of the computer.

I'm going to take a six-month sabbatical. However, if anyone wants to drop a comment just to say "Hi," I'd would be more than happy to respond.

In the words of Bob Ross, "I'd like to wish you all happy painting, and God bless!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Hunter, Hunted, and Mountain Biker

On the back of Pinnacle Mountain,
down roads where you rarely see
people traveling about,
rocks rise out of the gravel and dirt
like bony spines of ancient dinosaurs,
and trees are hunched and gnarled,
limbs twisted by winter winds,
now brushy and dark green
with oak leaves and acorns.

Skidding around a corner,
a dark figure on all fours
catches my eye
and locks my brakes.
Ten yards ahead,
in a sunlit patch of road,
dark bristly fur,
too big to be a dog,
the brown nose gives away
the bear cub’s identity.

But mine must have been confusing
to him, maybe never having seen
a boy on a bike,
round wheels instead of legs
on a steel-framed skeleton carcass.
What are wheels to a creature
who can climb rocky crags
and steep ridges
I wouldn’t attempt to clamor up?

----- Instinct identified me well enough,
----- and with a low moan, the cub
----- runs back into the dark green shadows.
----- I didn’t stick around to meet his mother.

The next week I met its poacher
in a red and faded pick up truck
creeping up the same road, slowly.
A gray, long-eared hound dog,
skin and bones, wearing a body collar,
was bolted by a leash to the hood.
Standing with a purpose, it leaned forward
like a rock climber, pulling on her lead rope,
a surfer on a Chevrolet wave,
sniffing the air, first one way,
and then the next.

The man looked just as confused
as the bear the previous day
to see a boy on a bike,
coming down the mountain,
out here where his thoughts
had possessed the solitary wilderness.
As we passed each other
on the narrow, rutted road,
he lifted his hand.
I nodded my head and smiled,
caught a glint of corn liquor
in his red and faded eyes.

----- We momentarily shared the silence,
----- save for the whirring and creaking
----- of his 4-wheel drive,
----- and then we were masters
----- of our surroundings once again.

from Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel 11 (Fall 2004) 25

Friday, July 18, 2008

Two Poems by Carl Sandburg


I saw a famous man eating soup.
I say he was lifting a fat broth
Into his mouth with a spoon.
His name was in the newspapers that day
Spelled out in tall black headlines
And thousands of people were talking about him.

When I saw him,
He sat bending his head over a plate
Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.

Sky Pieces

Proudly the fedoras march on the heads of the some-
what careless men.
Proudly the slouches march on the heads of the still
more careless men.
Proudly the panamas perch on the noggins of dapper
debonair men.
Comically somber the derbies gloom on the earnest sol-
emn noodles.
And the sombrero, most proud, most careless, most dap-
per and debonair of all, somberly the sombrero
marches on the heads of important men who know
what they want.
Hats are sky-pieces; hats have a destiny; wish your hat
slowly; your hat is you.

from The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, 1970.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'd Like to Tell That Officer Where to Park It

No offense to officers of the law (except for the one that pulled me over Memorial Day a few years ago and said I was doing 70 in a 55 -- when I was only doing 60, at the most!), but I took this photo at a rest stop somewhere off Interstate 77 a few weeks ago while on a Civil War class field trip. A blog about that adventure later. I probably could come up with a better caption than this, but maybe someone out there could comment and come up with a better one.

Space Age Outhouse for Johnny Law?

When Smokey's not on your tail, a place to rest his?

State Trooper Poopers?

Darn Nuts!

Since my daughter was two, she loved watching The Andy Griffith Show. To her, though, it's called watching Barney Fife. She also liked those Hillbilly Darlings. She asks me why it's in black and white about every other time. I tried telling her the world didn't have color back then, but she knew I was teasing.

Over the years I explained that people on television pretend to be other people, and that Barney Fife's real name is Don Knotts. The other day she was watching Scooby Doo on Boomerang and Don Knotts was making a voice appearance on the show, playing himself dressed as Barney Fife. I sat down next to my daughter and said, "Wow. Barney Fife is on Scooby Doo." She turned her head to me, rolled her eyes, and said, "No, Daddy, it's not Barney Fife. It's Darn Nuts!"

Friday, June 6, 2008

Writers Swap Poetry at Country Store

The next day after the Rita Riddle Book Release (see Apr. 22nd blog), SAWC joined other writers from Floyd, Virginia to read and share their work at Floyd's Country Store. We all had a great time. I got to see how revitalized downtown Floyd had become since I last travelled through there about 15 years ago, and since it has become an official stop on Virginia's Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail. It just came to my attention that there was an article published in the Floyd Press on May 1st about our poetry reading by Colleen Redman, who also attended and read some of her work. You can read it at her blog:

Loose Leaf Notes: Poets at the Floyd Country Store

Some great photos of the event were taken as well. As for the last photo, all I can say is that I was in a deeply reflective pose and was NOT asleep while Jim Minnick was reading his poem (in case you were wondering, Jim!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hank Williams' Last Words

We met, we lived, and dear we loved,
then comes that fatal day,
the love that felt so dear
fades far away.

-- At a gas station in Oak Hill, West Virginia, the driver, after finding him dead, found this on a slip of paper clutched in his hand.

[from Kevin C. Stewart, "Silenced", in Appalachian Heritage 35:4 (Fall 2007) 78.]

Thursday, May 29, 2008


No Regret

When life gets easier
and the corners of my mind
stop spinning from frustration,
I will shine like city lights
off in the distance
of a desert night.

----- I will laugh with my head back
----- so my white teeth show
----- the color in my cheeks.

When life is less bitter
and the hobgoblins of little minds
fade into the background static,
I will ring like wedding bells
on a pristine afternoon
with a tone clear and warm.

----- Everyone is holding hands
----- and the air is swirling
----- with apple blossoms and honey bees.

When everything is going right
and the black clouds of despair
are brushed away like dusty cobwebs,

----- will you run with me
----- down highway 64
----- to the county line, and beyond,
----- peel the past from our foreheads,
----- let the wind catch our innocence,
----- and listen to the steel belts play
----- a back-beat rhythm
----- to a traveling tune?

When it is all over,
and the pain no longer covers
my eyes with a jaded veil,

----- I will cast my bitterness
----- into the fiery furnace
----- and ride the sooty smoke
----- like a drunken Phoenix
----- into the topaz-blue sky.
---------- And as I look down
---------- at my pallid reflection
---------- will I say, without doubt
---------- that I had a good life?
from The Broad River Review 36 (Spring 2004) 21.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

British Blue Collar, or Why I Love Watching Eastenders

I've never liked watching soap operas. I remember growing up and being subjected to them by my babysitters. General Hospital. As the World Turns. The tediously slow storylines. Years later I tried watching Days of our Lives in college when I had my leg in a cast from a skiing accident. Call it experimentation; I didn't inhale. Truth was I couldn't get into stories about rich people's "struggles." People always seemed to dress nice, had perfect complexions, perfect teeth, and lived in big houses. The settings were also so fake. Outdoor scenes always seemed to be shot on some sound stage with fake snow and plastic trees.

A few years ago I happened upon a BBC show called Eastenders. I had trouble sleeping, and was flipping channels at 11pm, drinking a beer and eating a few pickled sausages. PBS was rebroadcasting the British soap, albeit six years behind. I was instantly hooked. Being an English teacher, I was drawn into the British dialect and colloquial phrases often used around Albert Square. I also found a down-to-earth quality in the characters and storylines. What American soap opera is about blue-collar workers struggling to survive in a middle-to-lower class neighborhood? Sure, the whole show is filmed on a studio lot, and I've never been to England, but there is a sense of realism and community that I'm drawn to. Not everyone dresses to the nines, some characters have wrinkles and don't bleach their teeth white, and some characters are just plain homely, but that's real life.

My favorite family is the Slaters. If the story were cast and filmed in the States, I would imagine the Slaters as country rednecks in the truest sense, but not in a malicious way, similar to the old television sitcom Roseanne. Hard-working, hard-drinking, blood-is-thicker-than-water kind of family. They fight amongst one another, but will stand up for family, almost in a clannish way (like they did for Little Moe). In fact, the first episode I watched happened to be the one where Kat reveals to Zoe that she is not her older sister but her mother by way of their pervish uncle Harry. Now, I am hesitant to compare that to the hillbilly stereotypes of Appalachia where it is thought that through inbreeding we all are our own grandparents or something, but there it is nonetheless.

My wife bought me a book about Eastenders off of Amazon UK. Though published in 2003, the book has already spoiled some of the upcoming story lines for me (seeing that PBS is currently showing episodes from 2002). I already know that Janine will marry Barry the used car salesman then die, and that Zoe and Anthony don't end up together (I was so rooting for them in a Romeo and Juliet, or Hatfield and McCoy kind of way). Call me a pansy for watching soaps, but I challenge anyone to find an American soap opera as edgy or as gritty as Eastenders. So, sod off!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Publishing Poetry

"I think for a lot of young writers, in particular, especially those coming out of MFA mills (and especially the programs that don’t quite “get” contemporary poetry, which is to say most of them), I think the transition to becoming a practicing writer can be a daunting, even crushing task. It’s when most people stop writing. They find that the context they had for poetry in school no longer exists in the “real” world and don’t know how to build one out of whole cloth. These are the people for whom contests exist, and it’s why I think they’re ultimately damaging. For one thing, the odds are preposterous. For another, unless they actually know the work of the judge, and know who the judge is, there is no way to ascertain if there is any reasonable expectation of even being competitive. They send in their money and their manuscript, they hope and they can feel crushed if they lose, sometimes again & again & again. Where if they would just get together with their friends and publish one another, they would be making enormous headway much more quickly. And their books would be reaching the right audiences. Which is (again) why it’s far better to have a volume published by Pressed Wafer, if you’re a New England poet, than in the Yale Younger Poets Series."

-- from Ron Silliman's Blog

I loved this exerpt so much I had to pirate it from a fellow blogger friend of mine (I hope you don't mind, Carol). I can relate to coming out of college and finding that my inspiration doesn't come as easily as it did, where I was once surrounded by like-minded souls, that academic atmosphere. I have had to find it in other places, maybe not whole cloth so much as in patches and swatches.

I have even thought about getting my MFA in Creative Writing sometime in the near future, not to have the title but to further develop and challenge my writing. Otherwise, I feel that my writing might inbreed and turn sterile without some fresh genes infused into it. Plus, I would get a 10% raise as a teacher for holding a masters degree. That's the selling point to my wife and family, who may see my poetry writing as a hobby.

As for looking to poetry groups for fostering and inspiration, they are great when you can find people that nurture and help feed you, and visa versa. When you get a room full of writers together, the air seems denser from the weight of everyone's ego (come on, you know it's true! I've been guilty of feeling self-important, too). I have also learned from experience that I have to have a tough skin when it comes to sharing my work, regardless of whether it is an editor, a judge in a writing contest, or my own peers, taking criticism with a grain of salt. I can choose to use that salty criticism for seasoning and consideration, despite how much it stings, or I can toss it over my shoulder like it was spilt on the table. Either way, I have to tell myself that I love what I do and that's why I do it. Publishing is just the final step in the writing process. One must take it or the other steps are futile.

A Poem By Andrew Hudgins

Southern Literature

She hunched in the back seat, and fired
one Lucky off the one before.
She talked about her good friend Bill.
No one wrote like Bill anymore.

When the silence grew uncomfortable,
she'd count out my six rumpled ones,
and ask, noblesse oblige, "How ah
your literary lucubrations

progressing?" "Not good," I'd snarl. My poems
were going nowhere, like me -- raw,
twenty-eight, and having, she said,
a worm's eye view of life. And awe --

I had no sense of awe. But once
I lied, "Terrific! The Atlantic
accepted five." She smiled benignly,
composed and gaily fatalistic,

as I hammered to Winn-Dixie, revving
the slant six till it bucked and sputtered.
She smoothed her blue unwrinkled dress.
"Bill won the Nobel Prize," she purred.

If I laid rubber to the interstate,
and started speeding, how long, I wondered,
how long would she scream before she prayed?
Would she sing before I murdered her?

Would we make Memphis or New Orleans?
The world was gorgeous now, and bigger.
I reached for the gun I didn't own.
I chambered awe. I pulled the trigger.

from Locales: Poems from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, 2003.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Todd, NC

Elkland, once a boom town of Watauga County,
where the railroad from Abingdon ended
to drop off passengers and load timber.
The giant engines spun on a turntable
to head back the other way.

Hotels, stores, banks, and taxi service
sprung up like mushrooms in a narrow valley,
shared by the South Fork of the New River.
Loggers and saw mills made their truck ready
to be hauled back the other way.

With the forests stripped of their hardwoods,
the Virginia-Carolina came less frequently
until, nothing to haul and no one to bring,
like locusts they swarmed to other prospects,
to make their living in other ways.

The railroad gone, the tracks were taken up,
its steel sold cheaply to the Japanese,
just like New York’s Sixth Avenue El,
scrap metal turned to weapons of warfare
used against our own Pacific Fleet
to send our boys to a watery grave.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rita Riddle Book Release

It's not often that I get to moonlight as the poet and writer afficionado, but this week I get a chance to read other's work as well as my own.

This coming Thursday the 24th there will be a tribute reading of Rita Sizemore Riddle's posthumously published collection of poetry All There Is To Keep, at Radford University, Radford, Virginia. The event will be held in the Flossie Martin Art Gallery at 7:00 pm. The Southern Appalachian Writer's Cooperative (SAWC) donated funds to publish this book, Iris Press worked diligently in putting it together, and all proceeds from the sale of her poetry book will go to a scholarship for an RU creative writing student. Rita passed away in 2006, but left her mark on the world through her personal, unapologetic, and touching poetry. A small group of her friends and fellow writers will read select poems from her book. Speakers are: Dana Wildsmith, Felicia Mitchell, Jim Webb, Beto Cumming, Ron Houchin, Jack Higgs, David Owens, and myself.

On Thursday, April 25 of this week, in conjunction with the Riddle reading, some of us, including others that couldn't make the Radford University engagement, will read some from our own work from 3:30-5 at the Floyd Country Store in nearby Floyd, Virginia, with writers from that neck of the woods as well as from other stretches of the Appalachians. I'm excited not just to be sharing my poetry with others, but that their famous Friday Night Jamboree follows our reading from 6:30 until 10 or 11. I'm looking forward to listening to some good Ole Time and Bluegrass music I grew up on living around Galax, Virginia.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Jesus In My Heart

My daughter came in from running around in the yard the other day and exclaimed, "I know that Jesus is in my heart. I can feel him jiggle when I run!" After cautiously listening to her chest and ruling out a heart murmer or some other ailment, I replied, "Yep. That's him all right."

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and be a child again, when I understood the ways of the world in simple terms. Up was up and down was down. Right was right and wrong was wrong. Then you get older and and more intelligent and things get complicated. Suddenly answers to questions became less simple and more convoluted. It took a while for me to come to grips that, although there will always be absolute answers to some things, sometimes I just had to admit that I just didn't have an answer, accept that I might never know the answer, and have faith that God knew what was what and he'd handle it.

Jesus said to his disciples after they tried turning some children away from him, gathering the little ones in his arms, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." (Mark 10:13-16) Like my daughter looks to my wife and me for guidance and care, sometimes I forget that I have someone to rely on as well.

To be a child again! Maybe I need to get out and go running in the yard more often.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Poem by Jim Wayne Miller

Why Rosalie Did It

Because talk in the town
had the galvanized taste
of tap water standing
too long in pipes

because dogs ran loose
sniffing each other's rear-ends
while people walked
their personal devils on a leash
or carried them, like cobras
in a laundry basket

because all the talk
the telling and recollecting
enlarged, clarified nothing
but wore memory away
so when Mrs. Curry was killed
crossing the road to her mailbox
she became no more
than a dead dog on the interstate
run over and over (in the telling)
until nothing was left but
a scrap of hair in a bloody spot

because they refused to interpret
("that's just his way")
("well, he was a Meadors")
("them Jacksons is like that")
because the 40-watt bulbs
at the head of stairs
were one with their little economies
of word, of thought

because, stopped on the street
in front of the hardware store, talking,
they were like horses standing
side by side, head to tail,
swishing flies off one another

because they knew
about everybody

knew when her Daddy died
choked on a piece of beef
at Purcell's Family Restaurant
after church
he had a polaroid of Roma Strickland, naked,
in his wallet

because they knew
or thought they knew
about everybody

because you were naked here anyway
Rosalie came up from under the bridge
at the end of town

--her jeans and shirt and underwear already
floating downriver—and
ran buck naked down Main
at 4:30 in the afternoon
blonde hair flying
tan all over
(they didn't know that, for instance)
no white skin where she'd worn
any two-piece bathing suit

because at least for the two minutes
it took to jog past the Dollar General,
past Western Auto, All Star
Realty and Auction, and on out
to where she'd parked her Datsun
by the picnic tables
the boys from the Job Corps built

nobody moved
nobody spoke

nobody knew what to say or think.
There wasn't a sound
except her bare feet touching lightly
on the astonished sidewalk
nothing moved
except her reflection running with her
in store windows.

(from Brier, His Book. Frankfort, Kentucky: Gnomon Press, 1988.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fixin' to Spring

It was a warm day the Saturday before Easter, and my daughter and I went for a walk in the woods behind our house. The trees were just beginning to show that touch of red when you looked out at the treetops. Otherwise, everything still looked winter-dormant. The only exception was a rogue peach tree on the edge of the woods and our yard where my wife's grandfather used to dump their food scraps. It's pinkish white blossoms were beautiful against its green leaflets, but it never beared any fruit larger than my thumb. What really knocked me out and got me to thinking about spring was this huge patch of blue Periwinkles (Vinca minor) out behind the woodshed. It covered hundreds of square feet. If it weren't for the poison ivy that I knew lied just under the surface, I would have dived face first into them. My daughter almost did just that, but settled on making a little mini-bouquet of them to put in her pocket.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The "Hillbilly as Monster" Rears His Ugly Head Again

It's nothing new in movies. The evil hillbilly stereotype has been seen since the silent film era in movies such as Stark Love , later on in talkies such as Child Bride, and in modern classic horror films such as Deliverance. Recently in the past couple of years there has been a rash of horror movies set in Appalachia or using Appalachian hillbilly stereotypes to evoke fear or elicit a dark humor as in Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Descent. Once again, Hollywood is demon-hunting in the hollows of Appalachia. In February, a Pittsburgh casting company had an open casting call for "Shelter," a horror film starring Julianne Moore that began shooting in Pittsburgh this month. The call was for people with an "otherworldly" look, described in the script as people who were "insular and clannish," and because of this have an inbred look to them.

The Ku Klux Klan once made posters depicting black men as monsters kidnapping white women, and during WWII our own government printed grotesque and evil-looking posters depicting the Japanese as slant-eyed brutes. These depictions are clearly offensive by today's standards and should never see the light of day in any form of media. Though I am not making an equal comparison between ethnic racial stereotypes and regional stereotypes of Appalachia, I always find it curious that Southern and Appalachian stereotypes continue to be perpetuated in society today.

This is not a new debate, to be sure, and in many ways it has been continued in part because we've allowed it. It is still recognizable to today's media-stoked society, a society that thrives on labels and typecasts and token characters. Comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy use stereotypes like these in their skits, but the difference is that they are considered "one of us." It's funny rather than offensive because we laugh with them.

I think it's safe to say, though, that Southern Stereotypes (take Baby Doll , for instance) as well as Appalachian stereotypes as evil, sexual deviant, or monstrous is in no way excusable, no matter how casting directors or movie scripts word it. There is a little justice in the world, though. West Virginia governor Joe Manchin's office objected to what it termed as an "insensitive casting call" on the part of the casting director of "Shelter." The casting director has since been fired. The movie is still being filmed as planned. The show must go on, right?

(from Brown, David M. "Film's Casting Call Wants That 'Inbred' Look". Pittsburgh Tribune Review Tuesday, February 26, 2008; and "'Shelter' Movie's Casting Director Fired." The Charleston Tuesday, March 18, 2008)

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Peoria, Texas, March 22, 1891

After some delay I am finally
getting around to writing you.
Them seeds and beans come through
all right. I am very thankful.
People are later planting this spring.
We had a big snow the first of March,
but prospects are still good for
at least a tolerable early crop.

I would like to see you out here
this fall, or later in the summer
when I can feed you on melons
from the patch I’m going to plant
behind the new school house.
You promised to come soon and
it is about time you was deciding,
but I fear that promises is all I have.

Tell your brother John I said
for him to come out here to east Texas
where he can farm right for a change
instead of plowing on rocky hillsides,
where he can get land so level and rich
it will make his eyes water to look.
A man can make an honest living out here,
can get all the work and land he wants.

Write me a long letter about home.
Give me all the news from Sevier County.
Tell your family I think of them often,
but don’t hug your sisters too hard
for they sometimes giggle and break wind.
Right now I’m sure you are all in bed asleep
under the same moon that’s full as a dinner plate.
I hope you are sleeping peaceful.

You asked about my health this winter.
After I got accustomed to the weather
which is about as cold as any in Tennessee,
I manage to eat well enough, though I miss
your cooking, your biscuits, and your smile.
I still am the tallest man in town,
and have not lost weight since last we met.
Board and washing is included in my wages,
but not a woman’s care.

I lifted your letter out of the office on the 20th.
Let me hear from you soon so I can plan.
If you want to come ahead I will assist you.
The country’s health and wages are all right.
We will have our own pastor and
a nice new church at the end of town.
My land will be six miles west of Hillsboro,
and two miles south of Peoria
when the deed comes through.
But a man can only wait for so long.
I promised your dear Maw I would
take care of you should you come.
Bring me all the news of home yourself.

J.B. Sherfly

Friday, March 7, 2008

Parody of Emily Dickinson

I'm as big a fan of Dickinson's work as the next poet, but I also like taking a friendly jab at her poetry because it's fun. This past week I had my 11th-grade English classes read some of Dickinson's work, and we talked about her peculiar life as a recluse. I then assigned students with a partner to come up with an imitation or parody of an Emily Dickinson poem. Here are a few interesting ones to come out of this. The first one is a tribute to the college basketball fans, and the second one, well, at least I can tell the students had been paying attention to my lecture.

March Madness Makes Divinest Sense
by Stephen and Brett

March Madness makes divinest sense --
To a discerning Eye
the Brackets -- make no sense
To the Number 1 seeds
In this, not all, prevail
To the Elite 8 -- great success
The Final Four -- a young boy's dream
And cutting down the nets -- Priceless

As I Lied in Bed and Pondered About Sleep
by Aaron and Andrew

As I lied in bed and pondered about sleep
I thought about all the guys I would never meet
The darkness of my bed reminded me of night
Because of my Dying Eye I saw the slant of light
My favorite thing in the world is that long black hearse
and to see my boo the pastor at church
I can't stop talking about Death
because the Goth kids in the future will give me mad respect
wild and adventurous like Tom Sawyer
It's two in the morning, all alone,
now where's my lawyer?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Today Is My Son's First Birthday

Before he was born, I wondered how I could love another child as much as I loved my daughter, who was three at the time. I worried because I knew I would not be able to give him every ounce of attention as I had been to my daughter the last several years. She is all girl, but definitely a Daddy's Girl as well. There was also something different about having a son that I didn't fear when I had my daughter. I feared he would be like me. I wasn't the strongest kid on the playground or the smartest kid in the classroom, was shy and timid at times, and my feelings got hurt easily. Of course, I feel I have overcome these hang-ups (and then some) as an adult, but I can't quite shake the concern that one day he's going to find out how much he may be like me, and hate me for it.

I will say that raising two children is not twice as hard as raising one, but exponentially more difficult. The feeding, changing, bathing wasn't new and as welcomed as when we just had our daughter to care for. Even after my son was born, I felt like he didn't much care for me at first. I can't remember exactly when that changed, but I can remember a couple of months ago setting a ball cap on his head that I was wearing, and playing Peekaboo with him. He pulled the brim of the cap down over his eyes and pushed them back up and just giggled. He got such a kick out of that. He looked so much like me in that ball cap that I just wanted to say "That's my boy!"

I'm proud of both my children, of course. My daughter is in Pre-K now and is writing her ABCs and talking to me about what she did at school each day. I'm especially proud of my son, though, because he's my son. I've come to the realization that I will always love him no matter how much or how little he turns out to be like me, or how much he wishes he weren't like me. He is a Hampton, and from a long line of hard-headed, hard-working, soft-hearted men.

Happy Birthday, my son. I love you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Under the Couch

A Barbie shoe, eleven cents for the offering,
half a Nilla wafer and three bobby pins.
A giant cockroach, belly up
to preaching the evils of Black Jack.
Two squares of Cap'n Crunch,
a subscription card to Good Housekeeping, "Uh-huh!"

A gingerbread man from Candyland,
balled-up foil wrappers of Hershey Kisses.
A broken crayon, Hot Magenta,
a tube of Chapstick I'd been missing.
Beer bottle caps, a toe nail clipping,
and the dust-bunny choir sang a soft, "Amen."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I'd Like to Blow the Top off Their Mountain

For those who, like me, are advocates against Mountaintop Removal, I wanted to share the following cartoon from the New Yorker. From what I have viewed of Hamilton's work (I admit I have a subscription), this is typical of his cartoons, portraying the smugness and complacency of the white-collar, upper class social elite. I'm not sure if this particular cartoon is making fun of the heartlessness and flippancy of the Big Coal grandfather, or comparing those who are against Mountaintop Removal to little granddaughters with trifling and childish requests, little kids that don't understand how the grown-up world works. Either way, It's not a laughing matter.
(from The New Yorker, Nov. 19, 2007, p78)

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Poem by Robert Morgan

Canning Time

The floor was muddy with the juice of peaches
and my mother's thumb, bandaged for the slicing,
watersobbed. She and Aunt Wessie skinned
bushels that day, fat Georgia Belles
slit streaming into the pot. Their knives
paid out limp bands onto the heap
of parings. It took care to pack the jars,
reaching in to stack the halves
firm without bruising, and lowering
the heavy racks into the boiler already
trembling with steam, the stove malignant
in heat. As Wessie wiped her face
the kitchen sweated its sweet filth.
In that hell they sealed the quickly browning
flesh in capsules of honey, making crystals
of separate air across the vacuums.
The heat and pressure were enough to grow
diamonds as they measured hot
syrup into quarts. By supper the last jar
was set on the counter to cool
into isolation. Later in the night
each little urn would pop as it
achieved its private atmosphere and
we cooled into sleep, the stove now
neutral. The stones already
pecked clean in the yard were free to try
again for the sun. The orchard meat fixed in
cells would be taken down cellar in the
morning to stay gold like specimens
set out and labeled, a vegetal
battery we'd hook up later. The women
too tired to rest easily think of
the treasure they've laid up today
for preservation at coffin level, down there
where moth and rust and worms corrupt,
a first foundation of shells to be
fired at the winter's muddy back.

(from Groundwork. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press. 1979)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Literature and the Land

Here in the Appalachian Mountains, there is a special bond between the Land, the People, and the Literature that seems to exude from this region like sap. One of the best Christmas presents I received this year, besides the little tins of gourmet coffee my mother gave me, was a book from my father and stepmother by Georgann Eubanks entitled Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guidebook. Many people have put together travel guides of North Carolina in the past, from touring the back roads to Hollywood film shoot locations, but this one I found delightfully different. Not only are there detailed directions, points of interest connecting place with the authors who stayed there or wrote about it, but the whole book is peppered with authors’ poems, fiction excerpts, and commentary on the place or setting. From Paula Steichen describing her grandfather Carl Sandburg, Robert Morgan describing the French Broad steamboat The Mountain Lily, to Sharyn McCrumb writing about Frankie Silver, this book runs the gamut with 18 tours of the North Carolina Mountains through the eyes of the writer. Some literature references surprised me, like the fact that Henry James once stayed in the Biltmore House and criticized it for being so isolated in such an impoverished part of the country. Some of Eubanks praises for the showcased writers or transitions into the literature excerpts do seem saccharine or forced, but this isn’t a book of literary critique, and reference books aren’t expected to wax poetic, so I can overlook it considering the monumental research from so many varied sources and the detail that went into this book. I’m looking forward to taking this book on a few adventures this summer for sure!

The Old Kentucky Home

In the process of reading the above-mentioned book, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains, I found a particular author excerpt catching. Poet and Asheville native Michael McFee wrote an engaging account just for this guidebook on his experiences discovering Thomas Wolfe’s home, and I thought I would share it with the Wide-Web World:

“When I was growing up in the mountains, from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, Asheville wasn’t such a groovy little city, Thomas Wolfe’s name wasn’t so ubiquitous, and his mother’s boardinghouse wasn’t yet an official historic site. “The Old Kentucky Home” was just 48 Spruce Street, where Tom’s brother Fred offered occasional tours of the twenty-nine rooms. He didn’t seem to like the house or his family very much: when my mother and I first visited, in 1968, I remember he pointed out, unapprovingly, where his famous younger sibling crept along the roof to sneak into a female guest’s room.
“A few years later, after I read Look Homeward, Angel (at sixteen: just the right age, just the right place), I went back solo, and the ramshackle place was much more interesting: it had become Wolfe’s “Dixieland,” and its drafty high-ceilinged rooms – some dim, some sunny – seemed haunted with ghosts of stories, the place itself a rambling gossipy character.
“I headed off to college in 1972 to study design, but soon transferred to Wolfe’s alma mater and decided to become a writer myself. When a dozen-storied hotel opened right across Spruce Street from his house in the mid-1970s, I heard that copies of Look Homeward, Angel had been placed in each bedside table drawer, beside the Gideon’s Bibles. Who could resist such a detail? I put it into a poem called “Asheville,” which was ironic, allusive, and dreadful.
“Graduate school, marriage, work, child, and parents’ deaths – it was decades before I got back to what had become the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. In fact, it was almost too late, after the devastating arson of 1998: I didn’t visit again until the fall of 2002, when a huge blue tarp still covered the partially collapsed roof, the north side of the rambling house was all plastic and tarpaper and 2 x 4 braces, and smoke damage haunted the windows. Four years into its restoration, the sun did not shine bright on “My Old Kentucky Home,” and it didn’t look like it ever would again.
“Memorial Day weekend, 2004. I stand where I rattled the chain-link construction fence only twenty months earlier, but can barely believe what rises before me: the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, gloriously intact, painstakingly and sympathetically resurrected. In fact, the old boardinghouse roof, the exterior yellow paint, the interior plaster, the furnishings – everything looks just like it did the year Tom left for college at Chapel Hill.
“But, appropriately for the nature of this particular place, it’s not overdone, a lifeless museum of early twentieth-century Americana. As I stroll through the house – around Julia’s kitchen, up the creaky central stairs, past the bed where W.O. unwillingly spent his last days – it’s easy to imagine that the family or boarders just stepped out and might be back shortly.
“Which is to say: The place feels exactly right. Like home, again.”

--- Michael McFee, quoted from Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guidebook, by Georgann Eubanks (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.)

On a last note, there are other great commentaries on Thomas Wolfe to be found in the Fall 2007 issue of Appalachian Heritage, including another Old Kentucky Home discovery account by Kentucky native Gurney Norman.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Durazno Dulce

It's January,
and I'm eating a ripe peach.
The cool flesh quenches me
like a South Carolina breeze
off the distant mountain ridges.
I can almost taste the sweet clover
growing between the orchard rows
when I close my eyes and chew slowly.

It's funny,
that this fuzzy, half-eaten fruit
is from the country of Chile
and not from Greer, or Cooley Springs.
Though I've been down Highway 25,
long before it turned four-lane,
I can't quite picture the towering Andes
or feel the wind from their snow-capped peaks.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The New Year

My wife commented to me a few days ago how she didn’t see what the big deal was about celebrating the new year, except an excuse to close businesses early on December 31, (“so everyone can go out and get drunk and party”), then everything being closed on New Year’s Day (“so everyone can sleep in and recover from their hangover”). Though I at one time partook of New Year’s festivities and all its merry-making while in college, I now see it as on the same level of importance in my life as Groundhog Day. Still, my wife’s vexation of not being able to shop at Sam’s Club on New Year’s Eve got me considering its importance.

It’s a time I’ve always stopped and considered the future, of what may come for the following year. As a young man in high school and college, a year was a lifetime. It was full of possibilities and anticipated summer adventures, a year to meet new people. I anxiously awaited those adolescent milestones into adulthood: 13, high school graduation, 18, 21, college graduation. It was also a time for me to reflect back on previous years, to look back and see how far I had come. It was a time to recount the good times and bad times I had experienced. When I was younger, though, there was less to reflect back on.

Now the years I have been on this earth stack behind me like second-hand books, one on top of the other, and the ones on the bottom of the stack get harder and harder to pull out and read. I can look at my life in decades, layers of strata in ancient rock, buried under the fresh thin layer of silt that is 2008 (those of you over 40 are probably laughing at me right about now). In 1998 I graduated from Appalachian State, enrolled back into ASU in the graduate program because I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, met my future wife, and worked as an editorial assistant for Jerry Williamson at the Appalachian Journal. In 1988 I was in eighth grade living in Hillsville, Virginia, wearing blue jean jackets with the patches, arm wrestling in math class, and wondering how I was going to get the courage to ask Rhonda on a date (or maybe it was Chandra – I had a thing for girls from Sylvatus). In 1978 I lived in Greensboro, North Carolina, my favorite television show was Sesame Street, I couldn’t tie my shoes, and I often loved to dance and make funny faces in front of my 1-year-old sister to get her to laugh. So much has happened in between that I couldn’t possibly begin to recount.

Now at 33, married with two children (and basically settled), an upcoming year is like chump change, not even enough to buy a can of soda at a convenience store. The only mileposts in my life now are looking forward to watching my children grow, that and my retirement in 23 years. I know it seems like I’m wishing my life away, but I assure you I am content with the predictable, methodic pace my life is taking because I share it with people I love, my wife and kids. Predictable is good, and there is always the possibility for the unexpected adventure. I just have to be more patient.