Elaine Fowler Palencia 

Driving Near the Kentucky/Virginia Border, Early Autumn

The past beats in me like a second heart. 
The blacktop goes up and up the mountain.
Kudzu has smothered the road signs and a school bus.
It has choked the creek and is rappelling across the road
On an electrical wire. 
In a hairpin bend nestles the Big Flea, selling
Pigs, chickens, rabbits, iron skillets, funerary urns,
Funnel cakes, water-damaged paperbacks, cornmeal, and guns.
I’m not from around here anymore.
The little white churches in the hollows cross their arms
And look ashamed of how small their cemeteries are. 
Coal trucks roar around the turns like sharks charging a rowboat.
In a local museum there is a Civil War exhibit,
Soldiers’ photographs discovered
In the dead letter office, never delivered.
Twice dead, then, those pale-eyed young men. 
The road goes up and up the mountain.
Mist smokes in the ravines.
In another silent museum lie letters
Found next to the bodies of trapped miners.
Remember I love you and don’t worry. I just went to sleep. 
Boys be good and whatever you do don’t become miners.
Night falls like a forest keeling over in a straight-line wind.
The lights of the prison on top of the mountain
Take out the stars.


At a Coffee Shop in Berea, Kentucky, Fall 2014

Coffee and croissants
beside a chilled window. 
Outside, light snow.

Great-great Grandfather, today I awoke to your weather
and remembered how

you, a peaceable man summoned
                                                                                 to war
        straggled past Berea
                              with the 52nd Georgia

(minus the captured
        and the dead)

        this same month in 1862
                                                          in falling snow
                                                                         under the rod of Bragg,

withdrawing from the failed
                                                                         invasion of Kentucky

you marched in thin clothes and broken shoes

        without water

        the parched corn running out

the cross of Vicksburg waiting beyond the unimaginable horizon.


Along Route 23

When you venture toward home,
The old ones will be waiting for you.
In the bathroom mirror
Of a Huddle House in eastern Kentucky
My late grandmother has been biding her time
The gravity of decades lengthening
The lobes of her ears
Flesh tightening over her high cheekbones. 
When I look up from washing my hands
Our eyes meet and I recognize
The gentle, bewildered smile
Of an innocent nature
Struggling day after day 
Against darkness.
That smile is mine now. 
Neither of us can believe
What has become of me.


Home Visits

I’m there at all hours
More and more often 
As I get older
To the current owners
Who have never heard of me

I bathe in the claw-footed tub
They ripped out years ago
Sprinkle brown sugar
On my oatmeal in the kitchen
Lie in my long-gone childhood bed 
On humid summer nights
Watching fireflies flash in the garden

At times the occupants
May feel a breeze
In the upstairs hall
See a shadow fall
Across a sunlit floor
Hear a creak on the basement stairs
Wake from an uneasy dream
In which their furniture
Is being repossessed.



Elaine Fowler Palencia has published six books of fiction and two poetry chapbooks. Her third poetry chapbook, Going Places, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. Her work has recently appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Pentimento, and Kentucky Review. She is the book review editor of Pegasus


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