Water-flesh gleamed like mica:
orange fins, red flank-spots, a char
shy as ginseng, if sought for
in spring-flow gaps, the thin clear
of far-away creeks no map
could name. My cousin showed me
those hidden places. I loved
how we found them, the way we
followed no trail, just stream-sound
tangled in rhododendron,
to where slow water opened
a hole to slip a line in
and lift as from a well bright
shadows of another world,
held in my hand, their color
already starting to fade.
The Skeleton in the Dogwood
(Watauga County, 1895)
Two lovers out walking found
more than spring's promised blessing
on new beginnings hanging
in a dogwood tree's branches.
No friend or kin claimed those bones.
The high sheriff came. Foul play
he was sure, but how or why
he found no answers, so stayed
to help break the ground, help haul
a flat rock out of the creek,
sprinkle some dirt, some God words,
then left for more recent crimes.
The lovers wed that winter.
On their marriage night they dreamed
of bouquets of spring flowers
blooming in a dead man's hand.
Tangled, snaky, a homestead
to stay far from, and a well
where some claimed if you listened
you'd hear howling up from hell
the scorched voice of Carl Gragstone,
who dug that well, broke that land
and a wife who hanged herself
from the barn's highest beam, and
this was the place that I came
one May afternoon alone,
waded through thorn-snatch, sumac
to hear for myself and leaned
my ear to dark, brushed the noose
that swung the rust-rotten pail,
listened and listened and heard
not a single sound until
I cupped my mouth with my hands
and called, "Hello, Carl Gragstone,
are you down in hell?" and heard
not his damned words but my own.