In the Smoky Air by Daniel J. Pizappi

“Schawan” is an inanimate intransitive verb, meaning ‘it is smoky air’ or ‘there is smoky air.’… Adding the locative suffix gives us “schawangunk” (‘in that which is smoky air’ or, more simply, ‘in the smoky air’). This word has no relation to those signifying ‘south’ or ‘southerly,’ etc.

- Ray Whritenour


In the valley of the Shawangunk Ridge,
we adolesced. 

By the old grist mill, where 
Shawangunk Kill met
Wallkill River and
tumbled in the tumult
of water and words, 
all the old Lenape-Dutch
pidgin places.

Weeds creeping up through slats 
on shuttered slaughterhouse windows.
In peeling paint on the cinderblock 
wall a cow holding a tray of steaks. 
Across two lanes of blacktop, 
the bowling alley, half deserted, 
alien in the pasture.
The manure stink of horse barns 
and cornfield fertilizer. 

In high school we'd cut class
and ride out to the ridge
where nothing touched the tight, 
weightless feeling of looking out 
over cracked rock and scrub pine 
to the valley below—of falling
without moving, walking back whole. 

Last April the ridge burned.
I ran out into the night and saw
its orange glow against the horizon, 
wondered if I'd recognize it at all, 
when the fire was through.


In June I followed the mountains
south, to another valley 
carved from the same Appalachian 
bedrock. Traded Shawangunk 
for Great Smoky.

Settled where Suttree walked
on down the line, under the old steel
bridge and out from the shadow 
of the bluff past a lumberyard.

Built my home in the arms of Agee’s
great cedar, and the colors
of limestone and of clay; 
the smell of wood smoke and, 
in the deep orange light of the lamp, 
the silent logs of the walls.

By November it was like reading 
the same news. There were fires
in Gatlinburg. Rumor said ruin 
and Murfree: A great cloud of flame 
came rolling through the sky toward them, 
golden, pellucid, and showering 
down upon the dark abysses below.

In the morning, I couldn’t see Knoxville
for the smoke hanging low over 
the Tennessee River.


i'm trying to say something about the human condition
maybe i should try again

-Nikki Giovanni

The painter Beauford Delaney 
was born in Knoxville in 1901.
He learned to draw on the back
of Sunday school cards
in his father’s church. 
Learned to paint in 
Boston, Harlem, Paris. 

In 1969, Delaney made his 
last visit to Tennessee—
a long ways from Paris.
He painted Knoxville 
a tangled mess of green 
and brown. Black lines 
for tree trunks. Jagged
greens for hogweed
or bull-thistle. Walls
of leaf and vine.
Skies blue or goldenrod. 

If you lean in close enough, 
you can read his epiphany,
written in each wild

To return is a submission
to holy terror, to a primal
fear of the insensate eater—
ivy caressing 
the slaughterhouse door—
to time.

Daniel J. Pizappi grew up in New York’s Hudson River Valley and currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is a Ph.D. student, Managing Editor of Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts, and co-editor of the anthology Kentucky Writers: The Deus Loci and the Lyrical Landscape (Des Hymnagistes Press, 2016). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Mantle, Your Impossible Voice, and Burningword, among others. 

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