Elaine Fowler Palencia
Driving Near the Kentucky/Virginia Border, Early Autumn
The past beats in me like a second heart.
The blacktop goes up and up the mountain.
Kudzu has smothered the road signs and a school bus.
It has choked the creek and is rappelling across the road
On an electrical wire.
In a hairpin bend nestles the Big Flea, selling
Pigs, chickens, rabbits, iron skillets, funerary urns,
Funnel cakes, water-damaged paperbacks, cornmeal, and guns.
I’m not from around here anymore.
The little white churches in the hollows cross their arms
And look ashamed of how small their cemeteries are.
Coal trucks roar around the turns like sharks charging a rowboat.
In a local museum there is a Civil War exhibit,
Soldiers’ photographs discovered
In the dead letter office, never delivered.
Twice dead, then, those pale-eyed young men.
The road goes up and up the mountain.
Mist smokes in the ravines.
In another silent museum lie letters
Found next to the bodies of trapped miners.
Remember I love you and don’t worry. I just went to sleep.
Boys be good and whatever you do don’t become miners.
Night falls like a forest keeling over in a straight-line wind.
The lights of the prison on top of the mountain
Take out the stars.
At a Coffee Shop in Berea, Kentucky, Fall 2014
Coffee and croissants
beside a chilled window.
Outside, light snow.
Great-great Grandfather, today I awoke to your weather
and remembered how
you, a peaceable man summoned
straggled past Berea
with the 52nd Georgia
(minus the captured
and the dead)
this same month in 1862
in falling snow
under the rod of Bragg,
withdrawing from the failed
invasion of Kentucky
you marched in thin clothes and broken shoes
the parched corn running out
the cross of Vicksburg waiting beyond the unimaginable horizon.
Along Route 23
When you venture toward home,
The old ones will be waiting for you.
In the bathroom mirror
Of a Huddle House in eastern Kentucky
My late grandmother has been biding her time
The gravity of decades lengthening
The lobes of her ears
Flesh tightening over her high cheekbones.
When I look up from washing my hands
Our eyes meet and I recognize
The gentle, bewildered smile
Of an innocent nature
Struggling day after day
That smile is mine now.
Neither of us can believe
What has become of me.
I’m there at all hours
More and more often
As I get older
To the current owners
Who have never heard of me
I bathe in the claw-footed tub
They ripped out years ago
Sprinkle brown sugar
On my oatmeal in the kitchen
Lie in my long-gone childhood bed
On humid summer nights
Watching fireflies flash in the garden
At times the occupants
May feel a breeze
In the upstairs hall
See a shadow fall
Across a sunlit floor
Hear a creak on the basement stairs
Wake from an uneasy dream
In which their furniture
Is being repossessed.
Elaine Fowler Palencia has published six books of fiction and two poetry chapbooks. Her third poetry chapbook, Going Places, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. Her work has recently appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Pentimento, and Kentucky Review. She is the book review editor of Pegasus.