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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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nancy, You always have some gorgeous flowers on this blog along with some fine poetry! I enjoyed them both. And I'm so happy for you that your book has been one of the four nominated for the SIBA award. You've heard me say before, that is a fine book!
All the best to you Nancy!