Southern Legitimacy Statement: I’ve swallowed moonshine and lived to brag about it; escaped a copperhead’s randy tongue; ridden a tobacco setter like some rogue elephant; eaten fresh-caught bluegill at dawn; been romanced by a choir of whippoorwills; and fallen asleep amid a lightning bug circus. Wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Chasing the little Dog I Named Jimmy
After Al Stewart’s “The New Mule”
Chasing the little dog I named Jimmy
wasted most of a busy morning.
It started when he wormed his way
into the chicken coop barking
biddies from their warm nesting.
He had never experienced rooster spurs before.
His yelps trailed him down the holler
and I thought I was rid of him.
In the middle of baking bread
I saw him trying to dig up the mole
that was plaguing my green bean patch,
loose dirt spraying the air like an oil gusher.
I shooed him off to the woods where
he eyed me suspiciously:
he was only trying to help
his black and white face seemed to say.
Feeling sorry for the little stray,
I brought out a bowl of milk soaked old bread,
but he was having none of it,
so I went back to baking.
When I looked through the window a few minutes later,
it was all gone,
and he was on top of the compost heap
scratching and burrowing.
Scolding my foolishness for feeding him,
I drove him once more off to his wooded retreat.
Whose spirit was he
to torment me like this?
An old boyfriend?
Some Yankee in-law?
The squirrel I accidentally
ran over last spring?
He reminded me of the mule
you spent years training
before he lost his edge
and mellowed to hand and harness.
Late afternoon I saw Jimmy racing the yard,
a host of uprooted pansies in his mouth.
This time he thought my chase
a new and wonderful game.
He scrabbled to the top of the wood pile
and down sending logs and pansies flying.
As I tried to restack the firewood,
I saw him tugging the mesh around the new apple tree.
I considered the BB gun,
but he cocked his head
as if to ask
aren’t you having fun yet?
He gave a little warm whimper
and took a few paces toward me.
With melting heart and brain,
I refilled the bread and milk dish.
The next morning he and the food were gone.
I watched for him all day
and the weeks to come,
but he had moved on,
a poem haunting these hills
lost and wandering.
All Day Geese Dance
All day geese dance
This southern sky in fluid tattoo
Honking their winter omens
While I haul and stack wood
Store butternut squash to root cellar
Cover the tulip and daffodil bulb
Challenging chores for one
with a spring fed heart
that swells with crocus defiance
the pluck of whippoorwill chant
the burst of anything green
The geese wing our hope onward
As I drink the sun one last time
Before night steals its fame
And leaves us wanting
All We Need To Know
Once around the square
(post office, grocer, library, feed store)
and we have all the worldly news we need:
Cecil Edwards’ boy Buddy arrested
for pissing on the sheriff’s car,
giant rain front coming,
Mabel’s Crafts closing
after twenty years,
tractor pull on Saturday.
I drive the miles back home
and catch up on the local gossip:
deer in the sweet potatoes,
trees bending and swaying
chatter rain is coming,
Zsa Zsa’s barks announce the mail,
near the empty feeder
a hummingbird hisses his hunger.
Nashville’s Midnight Opus
The racket began at midnight.
She wasn’t even our donkey.
Sold when the owner took sudden leave,
named for his hometown,
we were just the transition team.
Three docile days with her—
the new owner expected in the morning—
and now this commotion
sending us scampering from bed
at her abrasive hee-hawing.
Coarse sandpaper against
an open wound
would have been kinder.
We raced out half-dressed,
flashlights strobing the night
for some practical cause.
She hurtled around the fenced field
braying at ear splitting decibels.
I expected the noise squad
at any moment.
Just as suddenly
We blazed our lights
in half-hearted discovery,
then tromped back
to warmth and dreams.
On the verge of doze,
it began again.
Once more we leapt to duty
although nothing but noise
ventured into our beams,
the clamor now a constant being
with breath and body and smell.
We knew little of donkeys.
Maybe this is what they did.
We shuffled into the house finally,
settling at the kitchen table,
dead eyes fixed on wall or floor.
Sleep was impossible.
Even the radio didn’t drown her out.
She stopped at daybreak.
An hour or so later
the farmer came to collect her.
When we related the experience,
he only nodded and said,
“She’s a warner.”
“A what?” we questioned together.
“Warner. Tells you intruders are about—
coyote, fox, bobcat, even humans.
She’s better’n a guard dog.”
He backed his trailer up to the fence.
I slipped the rope around her neck
and gave a gentle pull.
“Let’s go, Nashville.
You’re moving to your new home.”
The farmer gave us a suspicious look,
took the rope, and clucked his tongue,
“C’mon, Jenny girl.”
She boarded without a backward glance.
That evening we sighed in giddy
anticipation of hushed reverent sleep,
but soon our eyes darted windows
swallowed by a troubled dark
where the unseen wander.