Larry Thacker is the author of Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia (Overmountain Press, 2007). A native of Middlesboro, Kentucky, he works at Lincoln Memorial University.
Birth of Tobacco
It was beautiful, but Lord, if she didn’t scare us.
Ethel was topping like the rest of us. A windless day,
the noon sun damp-slapping the back of our necks,
beating us double at the waist. She was suffering the most,
working harder than any of us, any complaints silenced
into warm rounded huffs, heavy as the leaves
we begged to thrive by summer’s final gasp.
When her water broke she just stood there, jaw-dropped
and bow-legged, pink grit streaming down her legs
into thirsty soil. She screamed for us and dropped
out of sight behind that sea of tobacco leaf. She broke
three plants before her back hit the ground.
We rushed over the stalks in bounds, snapping our feet
over the broad leaves, their sticky syrup pulling us down.
We got there breathless and yelling, the boy’s head cresting
as she moaned and rocked, tarry bits of leathery leaf and mud
clinging to her arms. As the boy gushed out in a plop, we grabbed
at this slippery bag of newborn to get it off the soppy ground,
away from the sudden rush of awakening insects and hidden worms.
Pap said it was like we all just popped up out of nowhere
when we finally stood, me hoisting Larry above my head
so he could see his grandson from the tobacco barn.
Meeting My People
Summoned out to cemeteries, in search
of missing persons from empty front porches,
wondering what they once did on theirs
and judging what I now do on mine,
I long for some whispered similarity
that might rock in the between gap.
I want to leave behind a part of me among these stones,
listening as dark falls for the outline of kept secrets
hugged under these rolling bumps along the ground.
Being closer would help, nearer any grave whispers
crawling in the night, mixed with frogs, deadened traffic,
the rustles from unseen animals I may not want to see.
A scant promise of answers lingers, latched fast
in the hardening earth in mounds and sinking ground,
one-sided conversations chipped out by the living
in stone crowned in rusty lichens and sworn silence.
While in fitful sleep and unusual repose,
our fog grew and crept out once again, having fled
the sun and our daytime view, when fatigued eyes
grow weariest of what is thought seen in the lying light of day.
Birthed in alley puddles and low ponds, yard buckets,
street gutters, from the drying spit cleared from our throats,
from the mucky canal not fit for carp, from the unmoving
ponds of blackening sludge up in the flattened hills,
it felt under our doors and window sills with wispy fingers
hinged on thin stretched, frightening arms.
Invading spaces we prayerfully repeat don’t exist,
the fog soaked into the town’s fabric, hugged our lies,
squeezed the will from a dreary history’s concrete frame
stitched together with the shallow breathing of rickety logic,
its grayish quilt stealing whispers all night, muffling
any echo that might remind us by morning of our mutual sins.
In the delayed dawn, the sun, already warm and real
above this hole of a town, was beaten out of existence
until I exited the tunnel, away from the heavy night in day.
And as I escaped, the fog, pressured from heaven, slung a leg
over the Gap in chase, too slow to notice, and unstoppable.