Joyce Compton Brown 


Marie’s Travelogue

Marie’s face was a map,
Leathered laugh wrinkles
Which nobody could read
Because she had married herself
To a Myrtle Beach house
And left her husband free
To map the terrain 
Of backwoods Iredell county
For smooth pale girls
Whose skin might be saved
From the vestiges of squalor.

Marie liked the distance
From Nannie’s wifely ways,
From clinging kin and puffy faces
Down long straight roads
To Myrtle Beach, the sandy shift
From red clay to tobaccoland,
From Baptist wails of deliverance
To Sunday mornings in dressing gowns,
Coffee and toast by the sea.

When her husband had saved 
Yet another pale beauty
And moved himself away
To a well-shorn cemetery, 
Marie could hardly help
But choose another husband
To take her far away and fast,
That inexplicable leathered map 
Right behind the wheel
Of her little Red MG convertible.

When that eighteen wheeler
Barreled round her
Just like he knew the way,
She zipped right under him,
Let him take her face into the dirt,
Transport her soul straight back
To Iredell County Mount Pleasant 
Primitive Baptist church
Where Nannie was waiting
For her return
To the soft cloying clay.


Blue Ridge Parkway: 1938

My father dreamed of building roads
up Old Mountain Road where bootleggers ran fire
all the way up highway 70 toward Asheville
where big dozers and scrapers were parked
and men camped in New Deal tents,
sang at night, and had a few beers,
where he would like to sing too and then
next morning get up, work hard, 
help shape that grey chiseled rock into
the Great Mountain Road of the people.
he’d make tunnels under mountain roofs
going on north toward Boone and Roanoke,
soaring above the great Shenandoah
toward Washington and points north.

He’d press those stones into solid bridges
arching over the going-down roads leading
to furniture factories and clapboard churches
and cotton fields and cows and makeshift tractors
and patched up depression barns
and women’s lists of time-eating tasks
and needy children clawing at his arms
always wanting to ride around with him
to markets and hardware stores, jokers and
banjo pickers and a few boozers mixing
in and making everything fun. 

He’d stay on that parkway path leading
north and south. He’d shape those tunnels
right through the mountains into northwest Georgia,
past those waterfalls he’d touched with his cold hand, 
above tiny trains silent and smoking down below
carrying their mountain burdens of coal and logs
past tiny toy houses with puffing chimneys
where women cooked and cleaned and scolded.
but he would not hear because he would be above.
My father dreamed of mountain roads.


Postcards for Pleasure Travelers, 1907
                                   (Altapass Foundation Reprints)


“The long veranda caught the breeze and
            provided shade that treated these wealthy visitors…”

Ladies basked on scenic porch
and rocked their cares away
in frilly damasked gowns
while men admired the view
in tailored linen shirts
while coffee was served to all
above the ruts of rock
while underneath the cliffs
heat-dripped workers built the roads
to ease their leisured paths.


“Eastern European immigrants
            who rarely got along with each other…”

They came to
build the tracks
to carry rich men’s coal
down the mountain’s face
left snaggle-toothed with mines
grim with blackened hate
for wages never paid
for bodies tossed aside
and folded under gneiss.


“Italian Workers played badminton”

Did the ‘Tally boys’ enjoy
swinging feather tuffs
under overseer’s care
in a makeshift world
where dawn was filled
with pick-axe rings
and tunnel blasts
and rocks rolling over
damaged corpses of friends?


“Leisure seekers and journalists were awed
            by the mountains and the construction 
of the loops.” 

Were they awed
by the bodies
buried beneath the rocks?
Dark eyed young men
fled from barren peaks
in Italy to dreams
of work and plenty
in a green-capped land?

(Poetry Editor's Note: Many of the historic postcards referenced in "Postcards for Pleasure Travelers, 1907" can be viewed here.)


Joyce Compton Brown has pursued writing and understanding of Appalachia as microcosm since attending Appalachian State University as an undergraduate, through graduate work, and via studies at Berea Summer Institutes and Hindman Settlement School. She is interested in the way the past and present speak to the same human condition even as the landscape continues to be one of post colonialism which leaves those with agrarian roots in a state of flux mingling modernism with traditions. She studied at Wildacres last year and has published in numerous regional journals.

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