Four Poems by Jesse Graves

Oracle Cove

This briar trail has delivered you, 
traveler, into the hidden plexus
of the forest, artesian wellspring

speaking in swift rippling elision, 
natural language long forgotten
in the tongue’s narrow channels. 

You believe deeper galaxies exist 
than this one, spinning frenetic, 
rotating through grooved orbits,

auroras, cascades, effusions,
oceanic movements in tiny
drops of mist, drops of light.

The sound compares to nothing,
not birds singing, not rain
rivering off slanted ridgetops.

This mountain refuses to know you,
to tell the future you hope awaits, 
which is plain: the child in time

moves in each direction, greeted
by mothers and fathers of past life,
foreseeing all those you will become.

What is the origin of this water
that trickles from the mouth 
of a forever buried cove, and fills 

all the floors of the ancient seas?
How will you translate the voice
that beckoned you to this dark pit,

this oracle, its message unrevealed?
Light from the moon cannot penetrate
the canopy overhead, frost at midnight

unseen, but felt along deep tissue,
not knowing whether you climbed 
upward or descended to arrive here,

knowing neither the origin nor
the destination, compelled by force 
into the immense heart of the mountain.


Fathers bleed into sons, and you must stand
under them, under their siring shadows,
mountains casting down their glory or their gloom,
and all the finer shadings of their enfolded spirits.

Surely you have looked for striations of color
in the glistening surfaces of your father’s irises,
old now and clotted as King Lear’s,
pale blue, orange-flecked, opalescent.  

Aeneas crossed no mountains when he
returned for his father, his frail and befallen,
his second pulse draped over his shoulders,
all former debts lofted and saved from fire,

but not forever. Even Anchises does not live
beyond his time, whatever the life on earth,
whatever the strength of the son,
who looks always in dreams, always in clouds

for the father he could not save across time.
The young man looks into his father’s eyes, 
listens for a voice thundering from the peaks,
watches for the signal, a falling, flaring star.

October Forest Inversion

Cross wet fallen chapters from the monograph
of early autumn, calibrate the spectrum of shades,
translucent yellows, burnt siennas, burnt ambers,
deep auroral reds, their simmering final language. 

The footnotes of this forest tell your story,
and the story of your fathers, their bitter elements,
their soft immersions, how their work cleared
meadows and creek banks, bent their backs

into the warping shapes of aged white oak trunks.  
Dig through the leaves for your own name,
burrow into the subsoil, and that will be proof
that you lived, frail and descending as your fathers. 

Your mother becomes the landscape, bristle-thin
with white-wisping hair, like frostweed
spindling in the last hard breezes of autumn,
spectral in the face of winter, life’s barren plain.

Follow her deeper into the wood, the chill evening,
let her guide you to where the ancestral cabins
have left no traces on the ground, where fires kept
bodies and food warm, kept life creeping forward.

Darker Realms

Your mother has taken you into the estate of her dreams,
where you may not travel alone, following steep slanting
trails from summits down into the hidden viney coves,

wet always from the mist, the dew, the seepage of roots.
She has your hand in hers, yet you feel no warmth,
no pressure of pulse beating time against pulse.

You will pass through the darker solitudes of the past
like a pilgrim over foreign terrain, eyes open in the murk
but seeing nothing, then eyes closed seeing only what 

her voice recalls from times before your life, recreated 
through tiny forms against the back of your eyelids,
relations you have seen before in black and white pictures.

Your mother leads you out of the cold, the furrowing rain,
into a room you have never beheld, unfamiliar to her, too,
except in dreams, yet she comes here often, for the dead,

to walk arm in arm again with those she loved as a child.
Stop clinging in fear, you tell yourself, she guides
you always to safety, but it does no good, gives no relief.

The room has a floral couch, broken down and slanting.
Two candles burn on an end-table, raising shadows
along the wet wooden floor, and there stand the figures

your mother brought you here to see, to clasp their hands
before they vanish into the mist, abandoning even
those stories the aged living continue to tell about them.

Jesse Grave’s work has been recognized with the 2014 Phillip H. Freund Award in Creative Writing from Cornell University, and the 2015 James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. His first poetry collection, Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine, (Texas Review Press, 2011), won the Weatherford Award in Poetry. Basin Ghosts, his second book of poems, was released in 2014 and was the 2015 Weatherford Award winner for poetry. He served as co-editor of three volumes of The Southern Poetry Anthology, and for Jeff Daniel Marion: Poet on the Holston. He is currently at work on the forthcoming Complete Poems of James Agee. Jesse is Associate Professor of English at East Tennessee State University. The poems appearing here are from his forthcoming poetry collection, co-written with William Wright, titled Specter Mountain, forthcoming from Mercer University Press, 2018.

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