Sylvia Woods 


No filter  


I remember an early fall and curvy roads
on Highway 25 near LaFollette.
I remember mist and fading trees, 
a crumbling barn, a slanted house against the mountainside. 
I took pictures out the window, lens filtered for fog. 
I remember a sudden storm— torrents, 
and gusts juddered the Datsun side to side. 
My windshield blurred green and yellow like a Matisse.  
The tires skidded on the wet pavement.
To stop the wild tailspin, I gripped the wheel,
told myself to steer in the direction of the skid.
I remember trembling like a fawn when at last 
the vehicle stopped, headlights facing the wrong direction. 
Eyes trained to yellow lines, I drove home through the deluge.   
I remember I hugged my child to my pounding chest. 
He was watching Batman on TV, legs crossed like sticks.
He barely looked up, oblivious to my shifted view.


Word Path 

I marvel at the cadence of your speech,
dance of predicate and nouns
you picked to name things of your world,
and nod to the rhythm of your head 
tap dancing as you talk.

I love the way your eyes light 
as you tell stories, your shoulders
mark metaphors 
as they pour from your mouth,
the history of your people in your tongue.

I lean in to hear your sounds, 
see the way your mouth moves,
the softened D’s and T’s, dipthongs,  
hear how you breathe from word to word, 
l’s and R’s roll through your throat like a hymn. 

I pay attention to syntax, for the path 
in which you place your words, lays claim
to the place you were born, first put pronouns 
in place, learned subject and verb 
how words make meaning.



with apologies to Seamus Heaney  

A kid spotted a streak of ink on my cheek.
“It’s a sign of my work,” I said, and swiped 
careless green streaks. 

I arrive home near dark, kick off heels
and mark papers into the night, tired eyes 
squint and brows furrow by lamplight;  
green ink dot pages like fly paper,
as I winnow poor words from pages.  

Daddy got up before daylight, 
put on  work clothes pressed
in sharp creases, starched firm 
as the knowing he was bound  to mine seams  
in Kentucky hills all the days of his life.   

My father left work covered 
in coal dust, face and hands black
as midnight—fine grit sparkled 
near his wide smile, eyes dark as the mines. 
At day’s end he scrubbed grime 
from knuckles where dust turned to oil,
blew black powder from his nose.
By the front door dark puddles
dripped from the soles of his boots. 

I wear white collars to work,
come home with these marks,
my life bound to thick passages,
uncertain prose mined from essays
stacked thick as Kentucky hills.



Sylvia Woods is a native Kentuckian who lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Her work is published in many anthologies and journals, including Southern Poetry Anthology III: Appalachia and Southern Poetry Anthology VI: Tennessee.  


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