Belle Point Press, 2023, 104 pp.
Notes on the Balds of Southern Appalachia
Shrubs encircle this mountaintop like a monk’s tonsure.
I imagine this bald in 1820— a herd of short-horned cows
driven up 4,600 feet by dogs and farmhands on horseback.
At the summit, they folded knobbed legs and didn’t stand
for an hour, shaking crickets from wet flanks,
staring at the shadows beneath Mount Mitchell
and stars emerging, twenty at a time.
My friend says that horses tear up the ground,
won’t move from a patch of grass till they have torn out
the roots. Cows, he says, take better care of sod.
Maybe this is why the balds of our mountains light
on us with a sparrow’s weight: occasionally,
we can appreciate a careful animal.
Forest is reclaiming the grassy balds of the mountains
to the west, a park managed by federal order. Spring pumps
and smokehouses at Greenbriar and Cades Cove dissolve
beneath leaf litter. Blueberry barrens harbor beech saplings
on Andrew’s Bald, covering the hogpen footprint, the
hunting cabin, overwriting pasture and cropland,
starting the forest clock over at zero.
On Max Patch, in a Pisgah forest held
by more lenient strictures, wild snapdragons
survive each summer mowing and multiply.
It’s September. Goldenrod and ironweed
freckle the hilltop. Cricketsong shimmers
at our knees, laps against the rainfly all night.
The murmur of voices loosens like smoke.
Reading poetry as a teenager, phrases
like “my daughter,” “my son,” or “as I fold laundry”
extinguished interest like the smell of shit. The firm thud
of a diaper tossed in the trash
“Domestic tranquility” suffocated, like oil
Second oldest of seven, my only scar from childhood
is a two-inch stripe on my knee from changing
baby siblings on the floor, legs a wide V
with baby between my knees.
One time out of hundreds
the pin cut forward too fast
through the tripled cotton gauze,
the shallow Z motion of the needle tip scoring a deep
red line, blushing only a little, hardening quickly.
My friends’ scars were trophies of sport, scouting,
freedom. Secretly, I loved my domestic
scar, because it meant I was needed
When I made a daughter and laid down
in the lucid dream of new motherhood,
all I had was my daughter
and the slime trails and greasy stains
of domestic tranquility.
Something in my body said this again.
But I don’t want to die
so I add this to my work,
leaning at the wall of windows in my forehead,
cutting the paint that seals them shut
with a razor.
Anna Laura Reeve is a poet living and gardening near the Tennessee Overhill region, traditional land of the Eastern Cherokee. Previous work of hers has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, ROOM Magazine, Terrain.org, and others. She is the winner of the 2022 Adrienne Rich Award for Poetry, a finalist for the 2022 Ron Rash Award and the 2022 Heartwood Poetry Prize, and a two-time Pushcart nominee. Her debut poetry collection, Reaching the Shore of the Sea of Fertility, is available from Belle Point Press.
If you purchase a book through our Bookshop.org affiliate link, ACM receives a small percentage of the cost.