Kathryn Stripling Byer

                    From the southernmost reaches of night,
  I have come here to  stand  at  this window.  Here I can see       
       winter trees linedancing on the horizon and glimpse over traffic 
                   the bolt of the gray Tuckasegee 
                       unrolling its  sackcloth.  

        No ashes,  just a  rusty gate I jimmied    
                    open at evensong
         onto an arcade of pecan trees,
     rows merging into the unseen, the underside,
 through which I’ve followed a black shawl of trails
         to their jump-offs where sky always waits       
     like an ocean in which I hear voices call: 

   deep in an iron skillet,  sizzle of okra dropped 
        into hot oil, and the sound of an old woman sighing
             as she sets the table.  She tells me her name
       is no longer one lone woman’s name but  a chorus  
          of  names:  Willa Mae, Alma,  Ivy Rowe,  Annie Lee,

      and, from the attic where she’d waited  
          throughout my  girlhood
   for me to sing flesh again onto her bones, 
        my mute grandmother, trailing me 
into the wilds of the Blue Ridge where she had been born,  
       taking root in the lexicon of wildflowers  
blooming on Deep Gap, Kanati, and Siler’s Bald. 

  No wonder, leaving my father’s black fields,
            where the dirt smelled of duty and death 
        and the sunset burned all the way down to its roots
                  and let wildfire leap over 
                 the ditches and burn up the sky,
 I arrived, not a moment too soon, at the junction    
         of Thomas Divide and Kanati Fork,             
      air ripe with bear scat and leafmold.           

  Or was it because of the  windows where every night I watched
        the skyfield on fire dying out, cloud by cloud, 
                    into  darkness  that I came 
  to this place where sky huddles over the Balsams   
           and lingers awhile every morning 
  as mist lifting off the weeds clasping the edges of Cullowhee  
              Creek? Over thirty years I’ve watched the way
 light begins here.   It still wakes me up.   Lets me be.                      
                       Here.    Where I am.

from Descent (LSU Press)

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