Elizabeth Howard lives in Crossville, Tennessee. She has a B.A. in English from Belmont University, an M.A. from Vanderbilt. For several years, she attended the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop at Hindman, Kentucky. The encouragement of the staff, including James Still and Jim Wayne Miller, and fellow attendees has been invaluable to her. Her work has appeared in Comstock Review, Big Muddy, Appalachian Heritage, Cold Mountain Review, Mobius, Poem, Now & Then, Slant, and other journals, and in the anthology Motif: Writing by Ear.
Already I can see my own wind-bleached bones—
The birds have vanished into the sky,
And now the last cloud drains away.
The birds have vanished into the sky.
I stand at the moonless window, only random fireflies
kindling the somberness. No trace of a pale moon
hiding behind a gossamer cloud, no red-tailed star
shooting across the heavens. Out there somewhere,
the birds huddle in deep forests waiting.
As a dim glow appears on the eastern horizon,
they burst into the light, colors as myriad as a million
rainbows, singing, a choir surpassed only by angels.
Morning by morning, they will follow this pattern
until one day the last cloud will drain away.
Already I can see my own wind-bleached bones.
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings
Angels of light, wheeling over
my garden, scavenge the tumors
of night. The bleeding hearts
I showed to my daughter, come
with her head bald from chemo,
gone with frost as chemicals raveled
her hair. I want to douse them
with founts of water, rays
of light, resurrect from ashes.
No angel, no potion, no
prayer I know will restore the pink
glory of my flowers. Only time
wheeling along its milestones may
ring root and marrow with haloes.
In the 1970s, I walk out of the Blake class
at Vanderbilt, head filled with “Tyger! Tyger!”
Undergrads wait in the hall for their class,
British Lit 101. If I didn’t know,
I’d judge them to be impoverished,
homeless perhaps, wearing rags found in trashbins,
unable to afford barbershops or razors,
even shampoo and soap.
I think of the caravan of school buses,
painted with flowers and peace signs,
driving through Nashville,
hippies in tie-dyed shirts,
the commune called The Farm,
led by Stephen and Ina May Gaskins,
a few miles away in Summertown.
Newspapers write about The Farm nonstop:
a religious commune, Buddha and Jesus intertwined,
hundreds intoning oms instead of psalms,
using psychedelic drugs, pot a holy sacrament;
group marriages, old school buses and army tents
bursting with multiple families,
midwives delivering baby after baby,
wild children running about,
everybody using outhouses,
living off the land, raising soybeans,
taking vows of poverty,
all profits going to The Farm.
William Blake and a hippie farm?
Blake seeing visions without the aid
of psychedelic drugs,
painting them on a school bus,
living with Catherine in a tent
crowded with a hodgepodge of free lovers.
The Blakes perhaps rebelling
under the tutelage of Stephen and Ina Mae.
The farm too confining for their visions,
they drive away in their bus,
past trees filled with angels.
In the distance, tiger eyes burning bright.