Gary Carter: Four Poems


Grave Wisdom

in a small town
cloaked hard by piney woods
one road in & out
time shows itself only in birth & death
new cars & satellite dishes

here, gravedigger
remains an honorable profession

no room for machinery
amid chipped gray stones
slumped together
beside the old church
sagging beneath the weight
of sins left behind
to be washed by the blood of the lamb

in the white glare of straight up sun
broad back wet
shiny black
he stands waist deep in the hole
carving the clay with a shovel
handle splinter worn
but blade freshly filed
sharp edged
to cut the rough rectangle
into which the box will drop

from a respectable distance
he watches the preacher
not hearing the words
not needing too
having buried some of his own
too old & too young
waits until the few are gone
tears clotted in red dirt

that he turns over
pushes onto the lid
always listening hard
with the first thump
for any sound that says:

“help me / I’m only sleeping”

hearing nothing
he fills the hole
pats it smooth
thinks a simple prayer
walks slowly home
to wash the caked clay
from weathered cracks in his hands
to kiss his wife
pat the bulging belly
where yet another baby grows
perhaps to replace the sad soul
in the hole
he dug this summer afternoon

or perhaps the vessel
for a yearning soul to return
make another go
at the hard work of living

the gravedigger knows
better than most
even the world wary philosopher
the thin line
between here & gone
being & nothing


Black Dog Moan

black dogs were roaming my street last night / howling at what was left of the moon / snuffling & scratching round my door / paws up peering through the window / hot breath slicking the glass / watching me with crazy yellow eyes / slipping into dismal funk aided & abetted by bourbon and memories /

which led to emmylou making believe & got me thinking together again till it hurt so bad / too far gone drove the shank in hard & deep / another shot & lord god / gram + emmylou sigh love hurts / save me jesus from the edge cause it’s an easy downhill slide from here to the possum & nothing makes black dogs wail & slobber like the gut-clenched rumbling moan of the possum /

but my cuz / brother-in-arms / performs an accidental intervention from afar saving me from he stopped lovin’ her today / goddamn saddest song ever / which could have led way too easily to cold hard truth & from there it’s a short walk to the river / evil beasts yapping at the scent & into the cold water / couple of bricks in my pockets / wouldn’t look back / wouldn’t have to ‘cause I know those dark bastards would be paddlin’ right behind to the end / too-long-gone gram in my ear whispering in my hour of darkness in my time of need oh lord grant me vision oh lord grant me speed /

singing me home /


Study: Blue Ridge Parkway Has Most Suicides

ASHEVILLE, NC–A study shows that the Blue Ridge Parkway was the national park with the most suicides from 2003 to 2009.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported today on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 15 people killed themselves on the parkway during that period and another six attempted suicide.

It’s the first report to look specifically at suicides in national parks. Study author Sara Newman said the deaths are preventable and traumatizing to park staff.

Officials at the Blue Ridge Parkway say it was likely the top location because it is the most visited national park, charges no admission and has many access points.

off a rutted road / you turn / into a mossed glen /
where ferns tremble / beneath a hover of thick-leaved trees /
somewhere a stream whispers an ancient dirge /
grackles answer and call harsh from somewhere above / but
maybe you are deaf to sounds of a world / you no longer care to know /
and so / you take a dance step onto air /

do you fall soundlessly as a feather / or with a last great howl / that
echoes off rock / offends silence eons old / worms blood lust / into
brains attuned to shivers of prey / so nostrils quiver at the
possibility / of heart and bone / revealed

with that step / will you go black /
or with clarity suddenly sense time-worn mountains / knowing /
without judgment or cause / your torments / or
can a single cloud hang so beautiful in blue / you regret /
and wish redemption / to be saved / pardoned / carried up / not down /
into this life / not away / to unknown or nothing

too late / not late enough /
were you / possibly / preventable?



cold rain /
diminutive droplets
sufficient barely to drum gently
persistent leaves bruised October /
fog scutter-creeps low ghost the ridge
while dark-beaked crows / unseen hidden high
crackle strident ancient answer & call /

in the bottom land
broken-down corn stalks thrashed
hard into dying shapes shift
whisper tasseled tunes of summer glorious
recall red blanched beating heat /
while the creek veiled under a red clay bank
hard-line coppiced
sighs low with rumors of days foretold
stone cold icy
truth scurrying November fast /