Vox Populi

Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry

Patricia Youngblood: Two West Virginia Poems

five hundred mountains  

over 500 mountains in Appalachia have been leveled by

mountaintop removal mining, more than 1,000 miles

of streams poisoned and buried in mine waste

.

the girl at ten felt more than saw how the

mountains commandeered air and space, pressed

horizons onto car windows, thrust massed color

and form into streams or to the very edge

of thin roads between towns, crazy roads

where the young uncles died on motorcycles.

 

she fell and fell into mountain opulence, as if

there were no coal mines or company towns

harsh and diminished even to her child’s eyes;

understood beyond language how the mountains

defined everything around them, especially

the contradictions.

 

distant relatives remain, rooted and still in thrall;

the mountains she remembers are magisterial,

numerous as dreams but actual. she has no heart

or vocabulary for the death of mountains,

stumps so defiled that even the ghosts are gone.

Mountain Music         

poem in my mother’s voice

 

I hated that backwoods music you brought back

from college, so taken with folk culture and

authenticity. It reeked of dirt and ignorance to me,

like the coal towns where your grandfather was

the company man, and your aunts and I

weren’t allowed to play with the other kids.

 

We’d hear it coming from unpainted shanties

and patched revival tents; the players usually from

so far back in the hollers they thought coal was

good money, until they got behind at the company store

and never caught up again. We’d see their kids, still

barefoot in late October, picking coal along the tracks.

 

The worse the town the more likely my father was

all it had of keeping order, or setting broken bones;

Sunday mornings he’d go out to see who’d been

dragged onto our porch after they’d drunk up their pay,

beat each other senseless the night before. Union

wars and clan feuds everywhere, feeding off old grudges

and that god-forsaken music never far away.

 

Well, you called it music, but it still sounds like misery

to me. Like men gone blind from bad still liquor

or lank-haired women ground down young,

laundry grey before it even came off the line.


 

Copyright 2011, 2017 Patricia Youngblood. “five hundred mountains” was the winner of the 2011 Frank O’Hara Prize.

.

West Virginia coal miners, 1940s

One comment on “Patricia Youngblood: Two West Virginia Poems

  1. Mary Sichi
    August 9, 2017

    Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

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