Three Poems by Kari Gunter-Seymour

Hank Williams' Last Ride

I knew all the words to “Move it on Over”
before I could walk properly.
Daddy loved Hank,
and that was good enough for me.
Move over skinny dog, 
Cause a fat dog’s movin’ in.
My toddler melodies hitting every trill and dip, 
daddy strumming G, C, G, D,
his foot a thumping tick hound scratching fleas.

He died hard, my daddy,
not like Hank, addicted to morphine
and booze, but he was blue,
and Hank knew the blues.
Tonic tunes, Daddy called them.

What might his life have been
if he’d played honky-tonks
instead of signing up for a front row seat 
in the Pacific Ocean Theater, 
thick with “Japs” and dead brothers?
Or better still, if he’d not come home 
with a metal plate in his head
and coal being the only means
to make a living wage in the mountains?

What might Hank’s life have been
if his heart had not given out?
If he’d never checked in
at the Andrew Johnson Hotel,
and Charles Carr moved on over,
so my daddy could drive to Canton, 
not that far from the foothills 
of the Appalachians, where I sat, 
singing all sass and twang,
as if somebody’s life depended on it.

The Day I Learn Her Diagnosis

I walk to clear my head.
There are no angels living under 
the freeway overpass, no colors 

where you are from, your brain
a jumble of neurons,   
stretched and hiccupping.

Soon snow will come, fill 
the negative space of your body’s 
landing, erase all evidence 

that once you painted a blank 
canvas with your fear 
unbuttoned. I have carried you 

like a stone inside hope-emptied 
pockets, like shame, like a word 
I could not say out loud. 

Now a voice, less heard than felt, 
hallows my deepest parts, 
opens me like a Bible. 

Oh, Mama, can you picture it?
Me on my knees, the moon
in a mad orange flare.


Hold Fast

The meeting ends with a prayer,
Hold fast the hand next to you. 
Yesterday is a dream, 
every tomorrow a vision of hope.
I squeeze the hands I hold, 
a woman on either side,
one dressed in county-jail orange. 
It’s humbling. We are all struggling. 

My mother is perched and pillowed, dying,
her mind a highway of eroding neural paths. 
She tells me intimate stories
without knowing who I am, dramas
whispering themselves into her ears.
A road map of saga, left to me to sort.

The woman on my right notices the scar 
in my palm, caught on a piece of barbed wire 
when I hopped a fence with Mark Fouty, 
sophomore year, somewhere near Torch, Ohio. 
He took me sky diving, made his own beer,
gave me an engagement ring the summer of ‘78. 
Tempting, but as my mom pointed out,
I was just beginning my life.

My mother didn’t have choices, 
having fled farm and family. 
My daddy fresh from the war, 
metaled and wired, a great catch, 
both of them so broken. 
On my sixteenth birthday I told her, I hate you. 
Now she says she hates to leave me.

Thomas Merton wrote,
If the world were to end tomorrow, 
I would still plant a tree today.

I leave the meeting. 
Drink black coffee from a plastic mug. 
Listen to the in-betweens my mother spins.
Trace the ruthless shadows of December’s moon.

Kari Gunter-Seymour is poet laureate of Ohio. Her work can be found in many journals and anthologies including Rattle, Main Street Rag, CALYX and the LA Times. Her poetry collection is A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2020). Her latest chapbook is Serving (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2018). She is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project™ and a recently retired instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She is immediate past Poet Laureate for Athens, Ohio.

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