Leah Hampton

Cancer, Texas

I have not breathed since July. 

At home
we are in Blue Ridge, in air;
all our windows and doors stay open
until winter sets in, and even then draughts
swirl on porches and course the narrow halls 

At home
I am honeysuckle, loam, cedar, animal
puffing and rustling fragrant in the leaves,
in the cilia and in the leaves. There, then,
no malignancy shadows my auntie’s chest;
Each morning our tongues are wet and safe,
moths flutter in the corners of screens,
the valleys sigh into our mouths.

Since July
Auntie has been irradiated, confined,
chemicaled. I have been drawn away to desert. 
I hold my breath for word and smother 
under Austin’s hot cloth. No breeze moves
between us; nothing flows. They give
her a contraption to breathe into, 
plastic, a measure of air. I feel the same 
tube in my throat when the traffic coughs.

I buy an apple from the city organic market
cradle it as I would cradle her
try to pull the cool of orchards back to my body, 
try to draw her in; I want to inhale like I am home
and blow the tumor from her lungs like a dandelion.

I want to heave mountains for both of us.



What we traded for 
mined out of black
coal seams rich,
was a holed coin.
Not even coin, but thin brass 
disguised as coin. Coal money came
round, franked, shaped and sized
to mock dimes and nickels,
to fool us in the pocket, to feel
nearly true. Company cut a mouth
on each face—sharp triangle, plain letter,
mark of the one and only 
store where it could be spent. 
We bartered in false brass,
cashed out our years, lungs,
sinew, water, skin. We
racked the spines of good horses
blinded by the dark of mine
and dust and haggled worthless 
tender until the earth emptied.
In kitchens, mornings and 
evenings at our houses below 
the portal, we spoke in shattered 
nods like auctioneers—dust blackened, 
no true coin in any pocket, no currency 
with fortune. Our fingers forgot bright 
copper. We neglected the dear, missed
fondles and mistook strokes 
for swindle. We did not brush 
cheeks, did not pay compliments. 
All went untouched, fervors
unspent—only scrip for marriage,
scrip for mother’s love, scrip I couldn’t
carry past the county line, scrip for 
flour and fat while the hills 
loomed and darkened the kitchen—
worthless. I mustered forged 
guts and left Kentucky empty, 
a hole where my mouth should 
have been, unschooled in the beauty 
of purchase, untrained for want.


Balanced on a Bird for Afghanistan

We’re so high up above Harlan, even 
the Limenitis arthemis astyanax circling
steep banks of kudzu stops bothering to flap
and instead glides, still-winged, a thing I’ve 
not seen. 
I had a dream, says Petie. About this war.
Oh, I say. 
I dreamed I sat on an eagle’s back
and went there, she says.
Which there, I say. Because I’m thinking we’re 
fighting two wars right now. 
Whichever, she says. If it don’t work out in
one place, they’ll just start up another tussle
Someplace else. You watch. 
The butterfly sinks below the stones below us.
Petie doesn’t say what she saw in her dream.
It will be her son who goes, awake and alone.
It will be her son who drops out of the sky.


Leah Hampton is a fiction fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. Her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, storySouth, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, North Carolina Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Haywood County, North Carolina.


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