Bio Note: I live on a 330-acre former state experimental farm in southeastern Ohio (the Appalachian part) in a house my husband and I built. My work has been in public education: 13 years as a band and orchestra director, and the past ten years as an elementary school counselor. I started sending poems out for publication in 2017, and became part of the VV community shortly thereafter. My submission includes my first published poem; an ekphrastic; and a poem inspired by a phrase by VV member Marc Di Martino that appeared in Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take up the Knife, edited by VV member Betsy Mars.
All the way home on Tuesday I listened to the news about coal, how yes it would/no it wouldn’t Put People Back to Work, Increase Energy Independence, Kill the Planet. And Tuesday night, no lie, for the first time I can remember, every car of the train that passes in our valley was a coal car, every car mounded full of coal, as if somewhere across the Ohio River a horde had been seething on stand-by God knows how long, just waiting for pen-stroke permission to fill up trains with mountaintops and shove them north. It happened that fast, the news and then the train, and it’s true: I didn’t fully believe what I was seeing even as I saw it, and felt—still feel— how someone must when a UFO flashes across the sky above their deck, or Bigfoot lumbers through their high beams as they drive a lonely township road, or some other thing some say has never been, shouldn’t ever be, suddenly is, and there’s no one to ask Did you see those lights? What’s that running into the woods?
Originally published in The Rise Up Review
Oma’s farm lay flat beside a glass-green river, 30 miles from Toledo. She said it looked like home. And where was home? It was the summer that my parents needed time alone. Batschka, Oma said, and ran her palms across her face as if to smooth a map. At the center of the map, her eyes burned like specific villages. By morning, they were light suffused through balsam needles. Oma said, I had two brothers, little brothers. The army take them. Lose them. She sliced the warm brown bread with her specific slicing knife, blade set parallel to wooden handle like a violinist’s bow. She buttered slices with her rounded buttering knife. But for paprikash, a chicken had to die. She caught the rooster that had chased and pecked me, bound his talons, hung him from a low branch in the dooryard, upside-down. Slit his throat—this with a knife I’d never seen. Some times are bad, she said. Her eyes went dark and far away. Neighbors bad. Russians bad. Then she turned and smiled at me, and wiped the killing knife across the daisies on her apron, and went inside to put it in its special place. It was the day my parents came to take me back. I watched the rooster spurt and drain. We ate him and drove home In September, teacher said I had to use a real country for “My Family Tree.” Mom said Hungary. Dad said Yugoslavia, but by then it wasn’t real, either, anymore. Teacher said Put Germany. It’s what she spoke. But I put Batschka. Blood-red Magic Marker. There are knives for slicing bread, for buttering, for slitting throats—each knife specific to its purpose. Anyway, you asked me how I choose my words.
Originally published in Up North Lit.
©2020 Sean Kelbley
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