Charles Swanson

2014 Poetry Contest Judge's Choice 


Sugar Corn and Beetle Dogs

Bones have washed out of graves
on Tangier Island, Chesapeake Bay.
The island, bellwether of change,
is disappearing, sinking, or 
the water rising.  The tongue of Cornwall
long preserved in crabbers’ lilt
lingers among the crabpots,
estuaries, even the Tidewater lowlands.

In my boyhood, the hugs of Ivor 
were pigs, and soyabeans, soybeans.  
My friends of King and Queen, the long 
county snugged against the slow
flowing Mattaponi and wide York,
is home to sugar corn, sweet corn,
and little rabbit dogs, those beagles
whose name transforms to beetles
in neighbors’ mouths.  

The King James speech, long reputed
to live in the islands, Outer Banks
and Eastern Shore, the Appalachian highlands,
isolated pockets across the eastern seaboard,
spoke to me in Cauthornville when
Erless Taylor said “I don’t care for nothing.”
And I knew he wasn’t worried.  He had
not a care as he walked out of this world.

I wish I could say the same.  I may
be more ready for heaven than the loss
of peculiar speech, of all the host
of memories I’ve interred
with loved ones.  Their bones and speech
wash up, oddly, strangely, leaving
me shaken at times, but somehow glad
at least some bones remain.  I’d like
to leave behind me something, bones
or bone chips of my own peculiar speech. 


Charles A. Swanson is pastor of Melville Avenue Baptist Church and teaches dual enrollment college composition at the Academy for Engineering and Technology in Danville, Va.  He is a graduate of Radford University with an M.A. in English, and he has an MFA from Queens University, Charlotte, where he completed a volume of poetic responses to the Old Testament Psalms.  MotesBooks released After the Garden: Selected Responses to the Psalms in July of 2009, and Farm Life and Legend, a chapbook from Finishing Line Press, came out in November of the same year. 

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