The layered deaths of small things
made black the heart of these hills,
and the streams, washed gullies, the great river
carry the dead’s murmur
to roar, drowned now
by the chunk chunk of machine,
rake and clang of cargo cars,
the squeak as they pull away,
rust feathered, driven.
Shadows come early in the hollows,
ice lies late. The crooked railroad
ties them all here
in the wrinkled palm of this off-god’s hand.
Fathers wasted want on lack,
the fabric of cheesecloth
brought home to the women for cranberries,
bought in half-yards from bolts
at the dusty back of the 5&10
with coins from pockets
lined with the lint of the realm, rich
with reinforced seams,Wrangler rivets,
the yellow w’s of their leaving.
The war was a gift:
young men, fresh-shaved and willing
to tie honor on like a wool scarf,
wear it to the field,
my father to sea.
Waves like the Appalachian ranges,
gray meeting gray,
boredom and torpedoes a heady mix, oh,
“how do you keep them down on the farm
after they’ve seen Paree?”
The topography of those ranges:
the ropy muscles of my father’s arms,
the taut veins on his temples
that looped across his balding head
to disappear somewhere up there
and seep down to dark:
what lay behind his eyes,
what caught his throat.
Time stumbles in the gnarled valleys
where anthracite and bitumen
elbow bones, and men
wore down their teeth
on hard wind and miner’s wages,
and children stole away on slow flapping wings
like the odd heron on the flyway,
one eye on the Connemaugh,
one on the next ridge.
Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata,
leviathan ribs of mountain force the roads to follow:
No way but down,
or up the arc to Jersey.
Cambria, Somerset, Indiana, Clearfield:
roads circle back on themselves here.
No way for a sober man
to get to Nanty Glo.
Marilyn McCabe’s book of poems Perpetual Motion, chosen by judge Gray Jacobik for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection, was published by The Word Works in 2012. Her poem On Hearing the Call to Prayer Over the Marcellus Shale on Easter Morning was awarded the Orlando Prize by A Room of Her Own Foundation in 2012 and will appear shortly in the Los Angeles Review. Marilyn’s poems have been published in print and online in such magazines as Nimrod, Beloit Poetry Journal, and the Cortland Review.