The Bones of Appalachia
A friend of mine from Wise, Virginia
tells me, “You are one of us, we together,
the bones of Appalachia as the meat rots.”
He says it knowing that both my parents
despise the rough country they come from
and live in what he calls “the literal world”
after leaving home and Neon, Kentucky.
He knows they say I’m not an Appalachian.
My friend was eighteen when David Walters
told him of Sin, the need to be born again.
He may not have known much of heaven
but he knew about things needing changed.
Says he went forward and accepted Jesus
“in some Jesse Stuart mirage of yesteryear
that never was.” So he got redeemed, saved.
What Jack Wright swallowed, I swallowed.
Same savior. Same threats of hellfire and
same robber-baron Christianity as history.
Same stupid belief that want and poverty
are to be endured. Lies of that magnitude
burn like moonshine. Stink like a meth lab.
These days, neither of us believes in heaven.
If there is a joy after death for Appalachians,
it’s in the springing back of trampled grasses.
Jack says he remembers mountain women
tottering to church in lace shoulder-shawls,
reeking of Este Lauder or morning toddies,
a few sporting bruises saved up from men
who literally hated the world. These dead
sleep now, if death is anything like sleep,
all the theologies of redemption put to rest,
under the pearling snows. Their bones are
in the hills they loved and hated to leave
if they had to, even to save themselves.
The Death of Chance Locke
His wife Rose says a sphere of blue light
“with zigzags” arrived in the room, the dog,
his dog, the one he named after Dorothy’s—
a talcum-white toy poodle version of her Toto—
that dog barking at the light or the presence
of death, or both, though death is always
present under white fluorescent-lit walls
and doesn’t seem to mind being the center
of attention. Everyone in Florida at least
dies warm, so he had that going for him.
And a doting wife who hovered, twisting
the ephemeral and mysterious into a shape
at once recognizable. Even his first name
was a grammar of expectation of unheralded
good, the honed moment of unbearable happiness
that waltzes in from nowhere or Pennsylvania,
cocking a Panama hat and motioning for a chair
to be moved closer. You know what I mean—
Chance is all about what’s not out of the question.
No saint, this one had a reverence for the light:
the ways it falls onto downturned orchid petals—
he raised white Dendrobium orchids in slatted
wood boxes hung from the sides of date palms.
The zigzags may have been a hesitating, having
a look at his boxed flowers or the wind-denuded
bougainvillea yet climbing one wall of his house.
Then again, it may have been a ball of nothing.
But according to Rose Locke, some of us pass
from this life as if a vessel of sorts is emptying
of a grand mystery, the blue and zigzagging fact
of that display forcing eyes to open, at least one
truth given a context it lacked until that instant.
Roy Bentley holds awards from the NEA and the Ohio Arts Council. His most recent book, Starlight Taxi, winner of the 2012 Blue Lynx Prize, will appear in 2013. website • contact