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Nancy Simpson's LIVING ABOVE THE FROST LINE, New and Selected Poems was published by Carolina Wren Press (N.C. Laureate Series, 2010.) She is the author of ACROSS WATER and NIGHT STUDENT, State Street Press, still available on WWW at Alibris and Books Again. Her poems have been published in Southern Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review and other literary magazines. "Carolina Bluebirds" was published in THE POETS GUIDE TO THE BIRDS, Anhinga Press). "Grass" was reprinted in the 50th Anniversary Issue of Southern Poetry Review: DON'T LEAVE HUNGRY ( U.of Arkansas Press.) Seven poems were reprinted in the textbook, SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN POETRY,(McFarland.) Two poems were published in SOLO CAFE, Two more poems were published in SOLO NOVO."In the Nantahala Gorge" was published in Pisgah Review. "Studying Winter" was reprinted in Pirene's Fountain Anthology and "The Collection" in Collecting Life Anthology. Most recently, Southern Poetry Review Edited by James Smith, published "Our Great Depression," and The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol. VII: NORTH CAROLINA,Edited by William Wright, reprinted "Leaving in the Dead of Winter."

Monday, November 29, 2010

LOOKING GLASS (a Personal Essay) by Jennifer McGaha


    As  you sit down to write these pages, you close your eyes tightly,  
you hear a dulcimer playing in the distance, and you feel cool river water 
pulsing against your ankles. You smell winter approaching and hear the 
silence of snow filling the creek beds and coating the evergreens until 
the limbs begin to snap and popping sounds ring like gunshots over the 
mountains. You see the trails of Pisgah National Forest winding 
through the hills, your shaggy terrier bounding ahead on a path, 
trampling patches of pink trilliums on his way to the creek bed. You see 
a patch of May Apples scraping the forest floor, the crackle of a campfire, 
the seared edges of a marshmallow bulging from the end of a stick, its 
glossy whiteness oozing over the melting chocolate as you press the 
graham crackers together. 
    You feel Looking Glass Rock hard and cold beneath your back, 
and you are dizzy and intoxicated by the wildness of the forests below. 
You see the wheel of the corn mill spinning slowly around, and you suck 
the end of a sugar cane until the heavy syrup rolls over your tongue and 
slowly down your eager throat. You hear “Amazing Grace” a hundred 
different ways—bagpipes and choirs and trumpets and fiddles, a medley 
of voices rising over the years. You smell the sweetness of honeysuckle 
growing wild in a pasture, and you hear a soft whistle as you bite the 
end off a blossom, holding the green stem in your teeth and breathing 
in the honey. You see your great-grandmother, her long, gray hair 
pinned in a bun, stooping over the quilting loom by the black wood 
stove in her cabin, and you see her strolling in her garden, her brown, 
crinkled hands pulling a green bean fresh from the vine and poking it 
into your open mouth. 
    You see a young girl at camp, lying on the top bunk in her cabin, 
writing letters home and listening to the creek gurgling outside the 
window, to the mice running across the rafters overhead. You hear 
“Taps” rising clearly and mournfully over the hills, and you are homesick 
and at home all at once and all over again. You feel glorious, icy lake 
water hit your sunburned legs as you leap from the lifeguard stand. 
You smell the musty scent of the barn, and you are tall and wild on the 
back of a horse. You see your dad floating down the French Broad River 
on a raft, his strong arms pulling the oars through the dark water while 
lightening streaks the dark sky. You scramble together up the riverbank 
and duck into a cow pasture, and you feel that quiet moment just before 
the bull charges you. Gray and angry, he stomps his feet, and his nostrils 
flare. You turn and see your dad, stopped solidly between you and the 
bull, waving you on, toward the fence at the edge of the pasture, and you 
feel the earth hot beneath your feet and the sting of the rising wind as 
you run to safety. 
    You see the clearing at the top of Sam’s Knob and the outline of 
Devil’s Courthouse. You see a family of deer along Graveyard Fields, the 
mother’s head tilted high in the air, frozen in time. You see a skinny 
teenage boy sitting on a rock beside you at the base of Looking Glass 
Falls, the water spraying your hair and swallowing your words. He is 
eighteen, you are sixteen, and neither of you knows you’ll end up 
    You feel summer slipping reluctantly out of the air and autumn 
moving stealthily in. You see patches of yellow and purple and blue 
dotting the fields and the first bursts of colors across the green hills. 
And, then, there is an explosion of color—the reds and oranges and 
yellows and golds—through which you can see a chestnut-haired girl 
running down a wooded path toward her bold father, her young soul as 
much a part of the mountains as the leaves and the trees and the deer 
and the air. 

by Jennifer McGaha
Originally published in Smoky Mountain Living
in a slightly different form, And featured in
in the Autumn section of Echoes Across the Blue Ridge

A native of Transylvania in western North Carolina, Jennifer McGaha writes nonfiction and literary nonfiction with an edge. Sometimes humorous and sometimes quirky, but always informed by her Appalachian upbringing, McGaha's writing has appeared in numerous  regional and national magazines and literary journals. 

She teaches composition at both Blue Ridge Community College and Brevard College, where she serves as the nonfiction editor for Pisgah Review. 

More recently this month, on Nov. 18, 2010, Jennifer McGaha was the featured reader at Poets and Writers Reading Poems and Stories at John C. Campbell Folk School.

Samples of her work and a complete list of her publications are available at her website: jennifer-mcgaha.wordpress.com.

1 comment:

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

I love this essay by Jennifer McGaha. I recall going to Brevard and seeing Look Glass Falls when my nephew was a student at Brevard College. Looks Glass Falls is lovely and Brevard is a very pretty place, too.
Thanks for posting this lovely essay, Nancy.