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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."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Last Day of National Poetry Month - title poem from the book THE HUNTED RIVER

The Hunted River

Dream that somewhere,
maybe in another universe,
a river runs forever wild,
purified by its own voyage.
Yet, at its calmer moments the animals drink.

It ain’t sportin’ but shoot ’em in their beds if you find ’em, my father orders.

My father teaches me how to hunt
along this river he says is deep enough for any man,
and I begin to think of how it swells
with rain and floods with fertile soil my father’s land,
harvested by hand and then by gun.

Boy, pay attention! Stop carryin’ that gun like a rattlesnake. If y’ wanna bag yore limit, git that barrel into position. You ain’t gonna learn how t’ do this in any of them books you read.

Still they listen, these ears, to water on the run,
wondering if it could change its course.
It seems a road I could walk on,
a current to take this gun to another world
to rust as relic of forgotten ways.

My father is smart.
He, too, follows the river.
He knows rabbits have to drink.
They are drinking my water, he’s complained.
Never hunt on another man’s land, he’s advised.
Never trespass on dreams that can’t come true, I hear.

Boy, we ain’t shootin’ stars! Git that gun pointed down to earth. But maybe it don’t matter none. Sissy as you are, a rabbit’d probably think yore barrel’s a carrot. Maybe you oughta put on a skirt, go stand in the garden and be a scarecrow. They ain’t no good fer nuthin’ anyway.

The other side of the river could be another world.
Maybe there a transparent moon swells from a river bubble
out of range of archers and snipers
aiming to hear it explode.

Damn near 18 years old and still skinny! Boy, when y’ gonna grow some? You wouldn’t make a good meal for a grasshopper. Around these parts a poor man’s gotta kill to eat. Gotta get some meat on yore bones, or I cain’t even call you son.

I’ve practiced scaring rats and shooting cans,
comforted that metal does not twitch in death throes.
My father wonders why I miss so much,
why my aim is high,
why I’ve wasted so much ammunition.

Lookie yonder! Cock yore gun, boy. We got visitors.

Across the meadow in rank and file waits
a pack of wild dogs, former best friends perhaps
of men who didn’t feed them.
Their leader is black but for the bullseye on his chest.
His hair is curled with burs, is ragged
from barb-wire fences and the teeth of challengers.
As if in a cage, he paces back and forth, all nose
twitching, reading the silence and scents.

He watches our nervous barrels, remembers
the bite of buckshot, folds himself into a small target
and howls as if to say I’ll find a man without a gun.
Then he leads his hungry pack off, into dark woods,
watching over his long back for mistakes, for fear.
For a moment eighteen eyes in the shadows blink,
then swivel and disappear.

Whew, that wuz close! See now why a man oughta never be without a gun? 
Any man’s a meal if he’s outnumbered.

I nod my head but wonder if I could even point
the barrel down a mouth that would eat me,
though I feel my father’s red river surging through my veins.
His blood, however rich and ancient, drowns me.
Life tastes like blood, he’s boomed.

Boy, y’ walk like a pregnant woman! Pick up yore feet and put ’em down like y’ mean to go somewhere.

It’s a snap to hear the hunter coming.
Twigs and dry branches crack under our weight,
bones breaking in the ears of frightened animals.
Men do not smell themselves,
but deer noses and long barrels
for a moment split the wind, then a gust
as one breathes in, the other out.

This here rifle’s been worth the price. A man’s the only critter that don’t have to git close to kill.

I look up then to a buzzard above,
reflect on it as a noble life
that eats death but does not kill.

A minor to now, I’ve only been death’s pallbearer.
Always my father has sent me ahead
to hand the dead to my mother, the stained artist,
whose knife resculpts the corpses,
whose hands baptize them in the purest river water
so they are clean enough for my plate.
Cleaning, my father then yawns, is woman’s work.
But I too wish to wash my hands, soap everything.

A bubble in my heart pops: a flinch!
Near the river, snow white and silent.
I am the only hunter in the world who sees it.
It has stopped making noise on its carrot, lies stiff in its bed.
My father’s eyes have crossed the open field,
do not notice how I could extend my arms with this barrel
and touch life, feel its breathing move me up and down.

As if standing in a storm’s eye where every breath
gathers to pause so deeply in the heart of fear,
old hunters can smell silence.
A great void in the ears swivels my father’s eyes.
He looks back like a whisper, traces the path of my eyes.
Too late I look away.

Easy now. Our supper’s waitin’. Y’ ’member what I taught you? Hold the barrel steady and squeeze the trigger real gentle like. Right between the eyes. Won’t hurt him none. Better do it ’fore he runs. Now, take a deep breath and lower yore sights. It’s time.

Wind, river, and blood pause,
stalled by a dam thicker than courage,
then all begin to whisper like an audience.
I imagine the river a snake coiling up;
the wind breathes heavier, parting the stems
of grass in the rabbit’s bed, giving me, if I will, the clearest
of shots. My veins bulge out like barrels;  a touched nerve
curls my unwilling finger, bends my sights
to a small thumping heart.

Father? I softly pray.

“It’s all right, son. It’s what we gotta do.”


Want to buy books by Robert S. King?


Robert is available for readings, lectures, and workshops. You may contact him at rsking@futurecycle.org.

Links to Further Reading
The Hunted River in
Neon (U.K.)
The Hunted River in
The Green Hills Literary Lantern
The Gravedigger’s Roots in
Whistling Shade

Monday, April 25, 2011

THE GRAVEDIGGER'S ROOTS - Four More poems by Robert S. King

FOUR Poems from The Gravedigger’s Roots

The Ghost in the Barn Light

The bright animal brings the dawn in,
the sun a yolk in his pail of water.
In its mirror the bent farmer washes his hands,
fist deep in his own image, the seeds
in his pockets ready for burial.

Halfway to his digging,
he passes through my open arms,
through the porous weight of my caring.
I want to warm my hands on his brow, sing,
“Do not crack your head to hatch the soul . . .”
But I am music too light to touch down.

I pass through so many walls
without touching.

--first published in Pendragon

The Suit with the Missing Buttons

On a door nail
my black suit hangs by the neck,
its pockets swollen with moths,
their brief wings turned to flakes of ash.

Moths eat little of the fabric of darkness.
Only they chew small holes
where the stars fall through.

Outside the late sun, a little wheel,
bounces on the horizon.
The darkness of my suit spreads over the bed.
One more button lets go,
rolls around the floor,
its voice disappearing
into a silent hole.
--first published in Poems That Thump in the Dark

Discoveries of the Shovel

I cannot believe in silver spoons
when I was born with a shovel in my mouth.

Oh, I could say gravediggers think deeper than most,
say that the shovel is a tongue
which both uncovers and covers.

But a shovel turns the world
with a slurring voice,
like a man who cuts off his ears
and then gives his speech,
reading his own lips in a mirror.

It falls in my hands,
this metal tongue gone rusty,
and only when it hits a rock does it sing.

Yet the blade goes deeper than the man.
So I bend over like a question mark,
lean on it and feel it
sinking deeper than I care to go.

Say it should only nibble at the earth.
Say no to its rough handle, the finger
that pokes closest to my heart,
when it buries old splinters,
like little bodies,
in the gravedigger‘s hands.

                                    --first published in The California Quarterly

Feeding the Body of Earth

if one of us who were cloven to bits
could remember the forest our body on our journey
if one of us could feel the forest sleeping
in us on our stone pillows
then we’d awake all of us by a road
with our murderers in our arms

and we’d rock them in our arms
but one by one we dead fly out of our senses
one by one the tongue the nose the fingers the ears
would all of us forgive the battle for being long
and though the mortal wits fall in five separate fields
five decomposing memories
the wind is still a nerve between us
a spirit clearer than blood
that moves through the grass
to soothe amputated eyes
looking back at us between the blades

and their gaze might hold forever the last thing they saw:
the limbs lift an ax and hack the trunks down
or see each man a battlefield reclaimed by weeds

but there would swell an oak from every weed
there would shine new eyes in every nest
and one of us would be all of us
all our pieces in a gown of acid
one by one dissolving into the body of earth
one by one into the hues of its wings
one by one of us the crows would drop bits of us to their young
and all the roads our nerves would twitch and open wide

                                    --first published in The Chariton Review

Robert S. King's  chapbook titles are When Stars Fall Down as Snow (Garland Press, 1976), Dream of the Electric Eel (Wolfsong Publications, 1982), and Traveller’s Tale (Whistle Press, 1998).
Two full-length titles, The Hunted River and The Gravedigger’s Roots, were published by Shared Roads Press in 2009.
Robert is available for readings, lectures, and workshops. You may contact him at rsking@futurecycle.org

Sunday, April 24, 2011


 In an interview recently asking me how I celebrate National Poetry Month, I was for once, not at a loss for words. For the first time in years as a practicing poet, I have a new book to celebrate, Living Above the Frost Line, and it is during this special month I learned it has been nominated for the Weatherford Poetry Award and it was named one of four finalist for the Southern Independent Booksellers Award.

This April, when National Poetry Month arrived, I smiled because I had already made my plans in advance, and I have been joyfully celebrating poetry each day.

Over one year ago, while scheduling writing classes as Resident Writer at John C. Campbell Folk School, I put myself down for a poetry class in April 2011. Poetry writing classes are limited and have been for years. I've been teaching one poetry class and one mixed genre class each year. Yes, I started over one year in advance planning for a poetry writing class this April during National Poetry Month. It  was full joy to work with practicing poets from around the country.

Also to celebrate I chose one of our fine southern Appalachian poets Robert S. King to feature on this site. Robert S. King has recently moved back to live in the mountains. I  welcome him and celebrate his poetry which has already been featured twice this month. Two more posts with his poems will be posted before the end of April. Read his poems and celebrate National Poetry Month with me.

Another event that was planned over one year ago was an invitation for me  to judge the Clay County Historical and Arts Council 20th Annual Poetry Contest, now in process. Twenty years ago,  I cofounded this event while serving on the board of the Clay County Historical and Arts Council with Art Teacher Reba Beck of Shooting Creek.  For the past  twenty years, I have chosen the judge for the contest from among the practicing poets of NCWN West. Some who have judged in the past are
Kathryn Stripling Byer, Steven Harvey, Judy Goldman, Ruth Moose, Glenda Beall, Brenda Kay Ledford, Glenda Barrett, Mary Ricketson, Janice Townley Moore and others. An Evening of Art And Poetry takes place each year, at the Hayesville High School Lecture Hall, after the judging, with winners reading their poems and with the judge giving a public reading at the event. This year's Evening of Art and Poetry will be held May 5th.

I've never been happier as a poet than I am at this moment. My opportunity to read with Peg Russell last night at John C. Campbell Folk School for  the monthly POETS AND WRITERS READING POEMS AND STOIRIES, was for me the icing on the cake. It was our biggest audience with many members from Clay, Cherokee Counties and more of our Georgia members and a lot of folk school students from around the country. My spirit will soar all the way to the end of National Poetry Month.



Water or phacelia tumbles
down the banks,
overflowing its rocky
creel, water
or trillium,
merging this morning
in one brim-
ful fragrant
resounding of
yes, She lives,
does the Earth
our long suffering
handmaiden raising
up dipper
by dipper the day
for us out of
her dark womb.


The tests I need to pass are prescribed by the spirits of
place who understand travel but not amnesia. 
         -Adrienne Rich, This Is My First and Last Address to You

Almost the age when memory falters,
I fear being made to count backward
by sevens to answer date, year, and
Presidents, as if those numbers and names
matter more in the end than this place
where I stand at the same kitchen window,
observing the same pines set swaying by wind,
reaching upward as I’ll reach, come morning,
my arms to the ceiling, breathing the dark out
of body and spirit, exhaling that old dream
of nothingness: laying my head down to sleep.


Now Rocky Face Ridge catches fire
in the last light and, though I can’t hear it
from where I stand, Cullowhee Creek tumbles into
the Tuckaseegee, always unscrolling beneath me
the names I already know. Snowbird.
Buzzard Roost. Weyahutta. Oconaluftee.

I don’t know how long names can last
if there’s no one to care where they live.
What I saw on the hairpin curve down from
the Chimney Tops, white as snow, I’ve not forgotten.
Phacelia. And how on the trail leading
up to the summit of Suncota Ridge,
I saw sauntering toward me a young woman
I could have sworn was the reincarnation of
every spring wildflower ever named anywhere.


Closer she comes to me each April,
as if she means more than I have a lifetime
to know. Roundabout her, her white Easter dress
whispers every thing I want to keep living
here in this valley that cups the last swallow of light,
every name I must reach to remember or else
lose them, hillside by hillside, to darkness.

These poems by Kathryn Stripling Byer were first 
published in Kakalak and  Hearthstone and were reprinted in

Do you want Kathryn Stripling Byer's newest poetry collection?