Reaching the Shore of the Sea of Fertility by Anna Laura Reeve

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
          on seawater.

     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
at home.
                              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,, 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.

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