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Illustration by Stacy Reece
Illustration by Stacy Reece

Five Poems by Chris Wood

A Tennessee poet brings us five works. All of them speak to small matters that every Southerner holds dear.

Basic Recipe for Squash

Plant seeds in warm spring soil, four to five,
spaced evenly, in hills six to twelve inches tall.
Sprinkle with water every cloudless morning
and weed each evening when the crickets chirp,
just before the fireflies and the moon rise.

Wait for the cicadas to echo, long and low,
when the mercury reaches near the top
of the thermometer, after squash-bees sway
between blossoms, gathering pollen
and nectar for their offspring.

Pinch each stem just above the crooked neck,
wipe the dirt from their waxy skin, and place
in the harvest basket, the one that once belonged
to grandma. Lay them under a tin roof lean-to
built beside the garden shed.

Heat vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
Slice evenly, cover with cornmeal mix, and fry
golden brown. Serve with sliced tomatoes still hot
from the summer sun, corn on the cob, fresh baked
cornbread, and pork chops, bone in.

 

Birthplace

I beckon My Old Kentucky Home, the Commonwealth, the Iroquois’
land of tomorrow. North blurring into the South. I hear the twang
of bluegrass in horse country, Lexington’s legacy. Bill Monroe.

I crave Kentucky Fried Chicken. Jim Beam. Mint juleps
and wide-brim hats. I miss running barefoot in Appalachia,
spun honey dripping from beehive frames. Smores.

I recall Saturday softball games with a Louisville Slugger.
Underground passages snaking thru Mammoth Cave. Camping
at Laurel Lake and Dale Hollow. College basketball.

I picture cardinals nesting in tulip poplars. Goldenrod thick along
the highway. The Cumberland Plateau, Daniel Boone,
and coonskin hats. Fort Knox. The coal miner’s daughter.

 

Small Town, USA

Summer sizzles south
of the Mason-Dixon line.
Our neighbor mows scorched grass,
dust following her John Deere.
She leans into the hill, erasing
daffodil and tulip leaves.

A beekeeper's hat tilts back,
veil covering sun-kissed cheeks.
Nectar drips from chunks
of honey laden comb pulled
from a rusty old Studebaker
out behind the shed.

The screen door slams,
hinges screeching, whining.
I carry a tray of sweet tea,
sliced lemons floating over ice,
to the ladies snapping beans
on the back porch, chattering.

June bugs and crickets serenade.
On the creek curving the back pasture,
kayaks float past, a beer cooler
tethered between inner-tubes.

Kids write sparklers in the evening sky.
Blue, red, and white pops above the tree line.
We catch fireflies in a mason jar,
drink moonshine to Lynyrd Skynyrd,
and slap mosquitoes from our sunburned legs.

 

Heritage

I feel them in my blood,
my ancestors. My body
is their body — cells, molecules,
chromosomes melted and molded
to form me. Celtic and Germanic lines
blurred and blended on American soil
tilled in Appalachian ground until
they grew into something new.

 

I see their names written
between the Old and New Testaments,
King James written in Elizabethan script.
Faces printed on daguerreotypes
tucked in the Books of Judith
and the Maccabees show the shape
of my eyes, blue, a trait held
in my father's genetic material,
hidden behind his brown eyes,
carried from my grandfather.

I want to dive into my DNA
down deep to the core
where my ancestors dwell.
See past the glass darkly,
travel through the dimensions.
I know their future,
they know my past they know my past.

 

Remembering the Farm Girl

Quiet stirs my memory of no cell phones
or streaming TV. My days were spent
watching honeybees gather pollen
from clover growing in the backyard,
listening to cicadas sing in the stillness
of hot summer afternoons. Ninety-degree heat
warming my bones, the sun tanning my skin.

I want to be in those wordless moments again,
see the plants heavy with red heirlooms,
feel the prickly leaves of yellow squash and cucumbers,
pick string beans under the canopy of vines twisting
teepeed poles in rows.

I miss the outdoor kitchen, counter laden
with shucked corncobs scraped clean,
mason jars of creamed corn boiling
in the pressure cooker. Canned tomatoes,
green beans, and peas lining the pantry shelf,
bread and butter pickles sweet on my tongue.

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About the Author

Author Profile
Chris Wood

Chris Woods’ work has appeared in journals and online publications, including Poetry Quarterly, Panoply, The Rainbow Poems, and Haiku Journal. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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