Katherine E. Young


The Methodist Church sends cassettes each week;
in Granddaddy’s sickroom we play them back.
Aunt settles in her chair, snaps string beans in
a bowl, blesses the spell wrought by psalm and
sermon, old-time hymns wrung from a brass-lipped
choir--magic to still the fluttering limbs,
the palsied mouth now routinely convulsed
in agonies of incomprehension . . . .
Out in the kitchen, Grandma revisits
her old wrongs:  what Cousin Gert said that time
in ‘thirty-four, how she settled Gert’s hash;
then she shifts to the time the minister
dropped by, the table piled high with that day’s
dirty dishes, and my! what the minister
must have thought of her poor housekeeping.
In the yard, a collection of wagon
wheels, sprung from their axles and fixed in paint,
pinned like dead butterflies to the fence posts.


My mother paid to put in plumbing, pushed
back the wedding date so her bridegroom’s kin
would never know there had been an outhouse. 
But the big house remains a running sore,
its hurts scabbing, cracking, tearing anew:
the whining of those precious pipes — tell-tale
minerals scale the sinks — now of a piece
with the bowed ceiling, the permanently
sloping floors, the nests of voles, the smell of
wood smoke even in high summer.  Grandma
sits in the kitchen, still as an icon,
while the walls around her buckle and bulge. 
In the unused rooms, the litter of ghosts
ferments the air:  tarnished shaving brushes,
moldy pillows, plastic flowers.  Old quilts
lie piled, not Wedding Bands or Lovers’ Knots,
but scraps pieced together any old way
by women with no leisure for fancy
needlework.  Once I found a treasure there:
tiny silver ring nestled in the quilts,
its surface incised with what might have been
flowers.  “They said my great-granny had small
hands,” my mother said.  “Died by a rusty
needle: tetanus, of course.”  We went on
turning over quilts, as if there might be
more secrets hidden there.  As if we might
find some reason, some justification
for the pain and poverty — some purpose
rare, remarkable, ennobling.  Not just
refusing to quit when beaten, not plain
cussedness.  Not the simple pulsing of
protoplasm, mad multiplication
of atoms, molecules, cells, all straining
to produce our unremarkable selves. 
The old quilts breathed out their scent of mildew,
of dead moths.  Downstairs, I heard the plumbing
rattle and groan, heard the shouts of the men
driving cows to be milked.  Beneath my feet,
the floorboard creaked as I took the ring and
slipped it on my finger.


The difference between silver
and gray:  alchemy, gradation
of metal, fur, ash, of wisdom.
Gray is the old linoleum,
the support shoes, the curls frizzled
in her hair by an indifferent
beautician each third Thursday
of the month….  Silver was the band
they placed upon her head, the dials
twirling in nerveless hands, silver
the color of her voice when
the lightning shot through.


Comes a sudden sigh —
blown by wind, perhaps —
moan of tassled stalks
groping towards the sky.

Pumpkins gleam nearby.
Moonlight slants across
empty buildings now
shuttering their eyes.

White stones mark the path.
(Broken down, they fell.)
Dead leaves dance these nights,
curling on themselves.


Staunton, VA, 1945

A child of nine in Sunday clothes sits up
in the high seat while her father pilots
the farm truck towards town.  Daddy, too, wears
dress-up clothes; the child sees small dots of sweat
banding where his new hat meets his forehead. 
Along the road, the country people have
hung out flags, children shout, dogs bark, music
floats from radios, follows in their wake.
The child fingers blue ribbons Aunt Etha
knotted around her pigtails, considers
all she’s heard of soldiers, Cousin Raymond
coming home, no more ration cards, Pauline
and Frances waltzing across the kitchen
when the happy news came.  May sun beats down
on the fields, on chicory and milkweed
in the ditches, on cattle, on the flocks
of sparrows twittering in the yards as
they near the town.  In the streets strangers wave,
rockets pop, a band plays at the high school.
As Daddy slows by the hospital gate,
a boy trailing red, white, and blue streamers
runs up beside the truck, he’s shouting now,
she smiles down at him, hears Daddy saying
“Pay no attention,” at the same moment
as the boy’s shrill “Loony bin!  Loony bin!” 
She watches the boy’s face contort just like
her mother’s when the words failed, jaw muscles
working the empty air.  Here is Mother,
expressionless, smooth, waiting on the porch
with her suitcase to brave the journey home.

Katherine E. Young

Katherine E. Young's poetry is forthcoming in Archipelago, Poet Lore, and Stone Table Review.  Her work has appeared most recently in The Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Iowa Review (where she is a three-time finalist for the Iowa Award), Southern Poetry Review, and Shenandoah.  She is a three-time semifinalist for the "Discovery/The Nation" reading in New York and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Locally, she co-hosts the Cafe Muse reading series in Friendship Heights, MD, and is a visiting poet in the Arlington County, VA, schools.  A chapbook, Gentling the Bones, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2007.



Current Issue
Contributors' Notes

Karren Alenier

Jon Ballard

Virginia Bell

Bruce Bennett

Sarah Bonifacio

Sarah Browning

Jared Carter

John Thomas Clark

Jennifer Pruden Colligan

Claire Crabtree

Yoko Danno

Anthony DiMatteo

Robert Farnsworth

Carol Frith

Martin Galvin

Jen Garfield

Do Gentry

John Grey

JoAnne Growney

Amanda Halkiotis

Kirsten Hampton

Sherry Horowitz

Reamy Jansen

Brian P. Katz

Jesse Keegan

Mary Ann Larkin

Nancy Tupper Ling

Gregory Luce

Pete Mackey

Larry Moffi

Judy Neri

Shep Ranbom

Cynthia Nitz Ris

Lori Romero

Janice D. Soderling

Sandra Staas

Paul Kareem Tayyar

Naomi Thiers

Davide Trame

Jean Tupper

R.J. Van Zandt

Sharlie West

Barbara M. White

Terence Winch

Kathi Wolfe

Ernie Wormwood

Katherine E. Young










Email this poem

Printer friendly page






Last Updated: Sep 16th, 2007 - 08:34:32

Copyright © 2005 - 2006 Cook Communication.