Three Poems by Michael Dowdy


I patter my fingers, trace the letters for ridge and rise.

Under my thumb and brown as a worm, the emoji for MOUNTAINS pines for trees.

Japanese for “picture character,” do emoji sprout like fungi in forests of words?

“What good is a mountain just to have a mountain?” the man from the Coal Association asked.

Tongue dipped in gold, his emoji for MOUNTAINS was a silver cloud.

I glance to the ground of May, trillium blooming, in the shade fiddleheads ferning.

“In some ways a better landscape than it was before,” the Interior Secretary proclaimed.

His spell banished the mountains to fill, remediated balds a blanched purée of green.

I eye the understory, lichen laddering a nurse log in the April rains.

The emoji for MOUNTAINS promising Colorado, Alps, Andes, steep towering things.

Spying the mines, would the emoji for APPALACHIA be a fist or a flame?

No, the emoji’s a buckshot canary.

On stumps and switchbacks, the trail fairy plants Skittles for my daughter to find.

Tickling the undergrowth, the purpling banks, she longs for wings.

“I’ll candy the canopy for the kids who are birds.”

Rarely seen, is the TRAIL FAIRY emoji ramps or ginseng?

No, her emoji must be a helicopter, propellers sowing mountain seeds.

The Future Alluvial

The end of winter was trivial.
Some birds returned, some remained. 
The burn lingered, oddly convivial. 

Outside, steam. In, heads on swivels.
Like fancy drinks, talks were strained,
our dissension bent to the trivial. 

Bitter cocktails, glasses beveled,
we drank to the end of the brain,
the clinking ice convivial. 

The climate changed, the sea level
rose, an iceberg calved. Mansplained
away, the end times grew trivial.

Our fear glowed, pixel by pixel. 
Outside, our azaleas aflame,
the rot lingered, oddly convivial.

Into the future alluvial 
we stormed, we spat, we brayed.  
King Coal frowned, wiggled, 
      trivial as a freckle, 
             head at last 
                   on a swivel.  

If Tomorrow

Gardens in every yard, or in every other.
No plot devours another.
Kids toddle with a dozen tongues,
parents soothe in seven genders.
There’s little or nothing to discover.
No craniums in cellars,
no fibulas in cupboards.

Lovers answer to aliases.
Silk. Yarrow. December. 
Forgotten: who we surrendered. 
A few frenemies we remember.
Snake oil. Profit. Disaster. 
Honeybees and ferns. Winter. 
New names grace our neighborhoods.
Nevertheless. Held.     
Where the Mountain Fell. 

With more of us than ever, 
our hands clean, eyes tender, 
children wiggle like copperheads, 
the venom in them the stronger. 
In fall, they gather the brighter 
leaves, heaving into the river 
milky Hefty bags of blood
orange, wine maroon, 
warning red, gold and yellow.

Our children spin a tale.
The others stranded below
the falls plunge their thumbs
once a year into color, 
their months the dull glow 
of our grainy pictures. 
Clinging to our dimples 
we hug the truth closer.

When the abundance came, 
the others were banished 
from the future, their mothers 
giving birth in a thousand-year 
storm, a gale of bruise purple 
and metallic hail, the dark 
orbs in the passing clouds 
shadows of our shadow selves. 

Michael Dowdy is the author of Urbilly (Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, 2017) and Broken Souths: Latina/o Poetic Responses to Neoliberalism and Globalization (University of Arizona Press, 2013). He is coeditor, with Claudia Rankine, of American Poets in the 21st Century: Poetics of Social Engagement (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). His essay “Mountainsickness” won Still: The Journal’s nonfiction contest in 2017. He teaches at the University of South Carolina.

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