Three Poems by George Ella Lyon

Why I Fell at the Folger Shakespeare Library

For decades I’ve told the story:
how, impressed with myself, 
I bought foolish shoes 
for a big reading in D.C. 
How I tossed aside my rule—
Never Wear Shoes You Can’t 
Run In—for bone-beige leather-
and-suede slightly-heeled pumps.

I’ve said that’s why I fell
on the intricate parquet stage  
freeing poems to fly
and requiring me
on hands and knees 

to grope
“Her Words”
“The Bowl”


before standing 
                  to make my way 
to the podium. 

I’ve laughed at my first line:
At least that’s over

and mocked my distress
as I peered into dark 
and saw my parents had come. 
Nine hours they’d driven 
from Kentucky 
only to witness the sprawl
of an awkward daughter’s pride.

Then, at the reception,
a family friend from my hometown 
came from behind, turned me,
and kissed me on the cheek. 
“I’m living in Fairfax now,” he said. 
“Sorry I was late and stumbled in.” 

You stumbled?” I said, choking
on pinot noir. My mother gave 
him a hug. I told the story:
my downfall, my vanity,
those shoes.

The century would be gone
before my mind knew 
what this neighbor had begun 
when he was twelve 
and I was five: 
                       how, his hand
over my mouth, he’d 
forced me down. How
he’d split my life. Nobody
will believe you, he’d said
and he was right.

Who was I kidding
disguised as a poet 
claiming I had a voice

Just his approach
homing in on the Folger
would fling me to the floor
tear words from my hands
have me groveling

right where he’d left me.

First Ticket

       My birth certificate was rejected.  I don’t know why the state of Kentucky Department of Vital Records took one look and said This won’t do, but they did. Was it because I’m female but my name is George, so they thought somebody got my gender wrong? (Did somebody get my gender wrong?  Who fills that form out anyway? Did I make an error filling out my form, slip a manchild’s spirit into a baby girl’s body?) (There is no womanchild, at least not unless a boy interferes with you when you’re five.) Was my birth certificate interfered with? Vital Records does not know. The copy I have says Not Original although I do my best. It lists no time of birth either, causing astrologers to throw up their hands and say, My stars! Jumping Jupiter!  

I asked my mother about this and she said, You were born. What else do you need to know? I need to know why my birth certificate was rejected. Was something wrong with me from Day One? Or is this just a clerical error? Was Dr. Parks drunk? Unaccustomed to sexing babies? 

My brother recently discovered that according to the very first step in his paper trail his middle name is not Vernon, like our father, but Vernae. Vernae! Who is playing sloppy chopsticks with our vital statistics? Where do you go for truth or even facts? Not Frankfort. Not the government.  Oh, honey, it is snowing again and my tortoiseshell cat is batting at the hands of the clock lying on the desk. She is trying to catch time, while I sit searching for my ticket sixty years into the ride.



Cornered by myself
at the living room desk
I’m eating chamomile flowers
from a plastic bag.
Over my shoulder
my husband’s at the door
about to take our small son
to the park. “I cannot be
this way,” I tell him.
“I cannot bear it.”


In the dining room
I turn to the hall
expecting to pass
between bookcase and closet
and almost collide with

older than everything
furrowed like hickory
smooth as beech
sycamore dappled
an enormous tree
has split the floor
pierced the ceiling
thrusting up through
the second story
out the roof
on to forever

Gray-brown bark
thunderous branches
rooms built among them
wounds patched with tin
shake my heart like a rattle
“Mother!” I scream
then call out, “Steve!”

knowing he won’t hear
sure that he’s gone
but he yells through the door
“Take a pill! Take a pill!”


A maroon haze
veils the living room
and I see through
the shut front door
a line of souls
streaming toward me
in armor
and nightdress
in buckskin
and sari
in ermine
in rags
on and on
they flow through me 
as I stand
like the roof
my feet sending roots
far below the house
my arms lifted

Originally from Harlan County, Kentucky, George Ella Lyon has published books in many genres. Her most recent poetry collections include She Let Herself Go (LSU, 2012) and Many-Storied House (Univ. Press of Ky, 2013). A long-time staff member of the Appalachian Writers Workshop, Lyon served as Kentucky's Poet Laureate, 2015-2016. 

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