Susan O'Dell Underwood 


God as Heirloom Tomato Seeds

The nameless nearly forgottens, 
begatted by those begotten ages past, 
our sacrificed last helping of the flame and glamour 
which besotted us midsummer, juice and pulp 
spinning liquid light off chins and wrists and elbows.

Even appetite will need its rest, a sabbath from the glut
of slice and juice and wedge and cherry tommy toe.
Whorled smears of speckled innards dry on paper towels,
encrusted seasons for next year’s anticipation reasoned out. 
The last bright harvest, so nearly 
like a fertile human smirch 
in desiccated fronds of promise,
still close and cloying with the ripe perfume
of big warm stew pots and jars like ruby giants in the dark.

Relish the tiny scatterlings of those perished globes,
the robust lost to first frost, salvaged
for the long wait of their hope and ours, 
the tiny tenderlings of a different harvest,
safely handled, tallied, labeled, shelved.

Shake the little jars mid-winter,
hear their rattling faith in tomorrow’s 
and tomorrow’s rows 
and trellises to come, rising up reborn.


God as Chicken Truck

There’s no crack in this suffering
from sun-crow rise to moon beam’s roost.
Who tells time by this white rushing anguish,
little lives clocking by at seventy-two miles an hour,
five or six to a cage, dead heads lolling out for air?
Who has polite conversation and blessings over dumplings 
after witnessing the stew of their swelter in this weather?
White feathers like tea leaves stick strewn
and crushed along the four-lane, pounded into pavement
long after little heads have bobbed their last, 
beaks lopped off, bones crushed into animal feed. 
It’s not a little death they die. 
But meantime, breakneck lifetime’s the thing, 
clawing open even cruel moments, 
way-sided out of nest and coop,
the blind-sided short weeks of pecking through shit.   
That flesh is sacred too, even the giblets, 
even quartered, halved, split, 
those ransomed clucks and shrieks,
those untold unspeakable voiceless howls.
We see right through themthe wires on the cages
open to the deafening, brutal roar of wind.


God as Clothesline

without the rags of humanity hanging there.

Until the day I tried to ride
my granddaddy’s mule up the hill and underneath,
strung too low for the height of Jack and me together.

No animated shirt tails in the wind
or big white panties blown wide,
or blood-stained handkerchiefs, or fraying towels.
Some days whole closets-full flew inside-out,
with stains and rips for everybody
driving along that dusty curve to witness.

That day I tested the strung-up limits 
of seeming emptiness, 
aimless wire like vocal cords unsung.
Sun across the blazing blades of friction
barely cast shadows of lines.

I underestimated those taut wires.
Up close, neglected, naked, they stared me down,
a forward-facing string of guillotines.

I slid backward quick over the lurch of the saddle,
and back and back, slid right down 
off the mule’s sweaty rump 
and landed hard on mine,
stunned like a nestling on the ground, 
blinking up at the strands strung across low clouds.
Riderless, the mule sauntered on around to the kitchen door.

Faces above me couldn’t shame me more
than I’d been shamed by little more than guitar strings
still sizzling up there between the sky and us 
with the vibration of my close call.


Susan O'Dell Underwood
won the Tennessee Arts Commission Grant for the first chapter of her novel, Genesis Road. She and her husband David have recently started a publishing company, Sapling Grove Press, which will focus its attention on the work of poets, writers and visual artists living in the Appalachian region. Underwood has taught at Carson-Newman University for twenty-four years after receiving an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and PhD from Florida State University. Her two chapbooks are From and Love and Other Hungers, and she's had poems and essays published in several anthologies and journals, including Oxford American, Now & Then, Tusculum Review, and Pea River Journal. She was born and raised in Bristol, Tennessee, the long-ago, original name of which was Sapling Grove.


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