Four Poems by Sharon Ackerman

Willie Nelson Back When

It would be years before I’d smoke

his seeds of redemption

but at seven all the lyrics

of River Boy rowed off my tongue.

A child sings because she can,

a lament no more aware 

than a flatboat’s low passage

dragonflies dredging sunlight at its edge.

My daddy grew up on the waters

of Kentucky, bringing its rhythms

into our house, his turntable

and humming, my hands

unconscious rhyme, sloshing

through chores. Mostly mournful

stuff, doves at dusk cooing

back their lot—This old world

don’t hold a whole lotta joy

our bond of muscle memory,

when the fishing line snapped

loose from its lapping tunes,

my father’s open casket.

Me the adult, stiff as a swimmer

braced for the cold depths.


Jephtha's Daughter

Here is an alphabet of man and garden

a hat brimmed with gospel

born from a land

that would beat a mule to death

if it didn’t plow straight.

Do this in remembrance—

I still see you walking down to rows

of trees, spraying the peach 

while I cringed, stomping back

a fat cabbage under one arm

It’s as big as your head,


A daughter’s mercies

can frustrate a man,

ours was a battle of soft and hard,

hip broken by an angel

pasture rock for a pillow.

Where there is no clear victor

we call a draw—

In the dream that comes and comes,

you plant tea roses.


Winter Nuthatches

In late afternoon as water blackens,
crusts in low-lying pools
a nuthatch calls, hardening
the trees for night, answered
by a faint echo up the hill.
They’ve found each other
across spaces of cold, voices
cracked like ice, as air between
them carries the immeasurable—
How light on a pond
seems a long ways away,
how when you walk toward a mountain
it moves back. Always, the mimicry
and mirage of distances,
the folly of believing this life might 
never end, its cord between body
and earth someday dissolved.
I can’t see the striped heads
but I hear them stitching
the line between themselves
bough to bough, together again
just before dark.


Copperhead on the Sidewalk

You learn in the country

to have your wits about you,

still the snake surprises

on a rare November day

tongue flicking

at a patch of sun. Why not

taste the air—measure

in serpentine scales

what is too easily hidden?

Malice has one tang, prey

another, the human heart

a blade of cruel and kind,

never knowing which end

of the rake will suffice.

Maybe the world is relearned

this way, taking in the savor

of autumn’s end,

licking along the navy rim

of evening for danger.

Can we know— ever really,

if it’s snake or angel

that clings to the warm cement

tan muscles flexed to defend 

every forkful of light.

Sharon Ackerman
lives near the Blue Ridge of Virginia. Her poems have appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Atlanta Review, Coal Hill Review, Cumberland River Review, and various others. She is poetry editor for Streetlight Magazine