Five Poems by Denton Loving

Tennessee poet Denton Loving covers fishing, the moon, chimney birds and more.

Rituals for Catching fish

Never speak of fishing, or whistle on the water
lest the fish hear you and swim away.

Never let your shadow fall on the water
lest the fish see you and swim away.

Whatever your bait is—worm, minnow, crayfish,
squid—spit on it, and the fish won’t swim away.

Offer a sip of good beer to thirsty river spirits
so they don’t push the fish to swim away.

Test your hook against your skin, christening
metal with blood, so the fish won’t swim away.

Break the water with your cupped hand and whisper
a dream, and the fish won’t swim away.

What’s a small sacrifice of beer, blood, or desire
if it means the fish won’t swim away?

If you have a beloved, steal a kiss to prove
you won’t let a keeper swim away.

the moon was only a rumor

Beneath the canopy, vast darkness
transports me back to sticky Kentucky

summers of my youth. I packed my bag
with more books and bourbon than clothes,

and drifted through old-growth forests,
feeling my way with my feet and a little luck.

Sometimes I heard travelers on the path ahead.

Their voices—like faint beams of starlight
bouncing through the trees—felt so real

I tried to latch on to them before
they attached to the trees like leaves,

leaving me in more darkness and with a silence
inside me that I never meant to carry home.

Chimney Birds

The squeaks are faint at first. Did you hear it too? I mute the television to zero in on the source. By late spring, there’s no question. A smokestack hatchery for the untuned. The decibels rise as the sun reaches its zenith. So much noise. So many mouths clamoring, crying like babies in a cauldron, like prophets in the fire. You hear it, don’t you? The growing force of their cries, fearless in their need. Pump up the volume on the news. Protesters in the streets could learn from these birds. I can’t even tell what their picket signs are protesting. They can’t match this pageantry and passion above the rafters. This is primordial. And to think that it comes from starlings or blackbirds: not a bird with showy colors worth looking up in the bird book, not a songbird. Just a bunch of baby passerines, squawking their blessings and curses, screeching more need than can ever be swallowed in such tiny beaks.

April Zuihitsu

This morning, I lit fire to a brush pile knowing rain was on the way, but I woke up too late, and the rain came too soon. It dowsed the flames, leaving the brush untouched on the outside and the center a hole of ash.

I met a guy last summer from Indiana who was driving through Eastern Kentucky. A bear rolled down a mountain and into the road and then into the man’s car before bouncing off and disappearing in the woods. He said he had hoped to see a bear on the trip, but he hadn’t planned to hit one. Though, I suppose who hit who is debatable.

Half of my family origin stories begin, “Once upon a time, there was a man in the forest…” That’s how my ancestors liked to climb into history.

There’s another brush pile that I need to clear away, but it’s closer to the woods. I’ll have to be extra careful if I burn it. I don’t want to be Thoreau.

Varieties of daffodils that share names with people: Barrett Browning, Bernadino, By George, Carlton, Coleman’s Relish, Dolly Mollinger, Edna Earle, Elvira, Jack Snipe, Jenny, King Alfred, Magellan, Marjorie Treveal, Merlin, Peeping Tom, Professor Einstein, Queen Anne’s Double, Rip Van Winkle, Salome, Saint Keverne, Sir Winston Churchill, Scarlett O’Hara, Suzy, Thalia, Victoria.

My mom’s gardening style is less mulch and Round-Up and more helter-skelter explosion of old-fashioned blooms.

An old saying, paraphrased: In the forest, you dress well for dinner. The deeper in you are, the better you dress.

This body is a temple. Is a machine. Is not what it used to be. This body is for sale.

Two of the kittens got caught in the rain. They bounded onto the back deck, completely drenched, and then licked each other dry.

The other half of my family origin stories begin with an ancestor who was a bear.

Love Is Slippery

Eight days gone and so tired on the last leg of my flight, my eyes tangled, and I settled in 10C instead of 9C. The man assigned to 10C—bushy eyebrowed, wearing Volunteer-orange tennis shoes—was glad to switch. 9C was in the comfort zone and gave an extra half-inch of leg space. 9D was empty until a woman—the last to board the plane—claimed it, and we all flew north into the undying night. Perhaps because I heard one flight attendant say to another that love is slippery, or perhaps because I’m delusional about my role in the machine works of destiny, I wondered if I had taken the wrong seat so 9C and 9D might fall in love. But the two seemed to never speak, or not at least that I saw, and I watched even after the lights dimmed and the cabin grew dark. Once we landed, the couple uncoupled and stood on opposite sides of the baggage carousel. While we all waited for our luggage, I reconsidered the degrees to which love might, indeed, be slippery. Perhaps 9C and 9D had not been destined to meet. Or perhaps their meeting and falling in love had been only one possible destiny. Or perhaps the falling-in-love part might not come for another week or so, when 9D might bump into 9C while selecting oranges in a grocery store, and say, “Weren’t you sitting next to me last week on that flight from Florida? I thought I recognized your shoes.”

Author Profile

Denton Loving lives on a farm near the historic Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia come together. He is the author of the poetry collections, Crimes Against Birds (Main Street Rag), and Tamp (Mercer University Press). He is also the editor of Seeking Its Own Level: an anthology of writings about water (MotesBooks). For over a decade, he co-directed the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University where he also co-edited drafthorse: the literary journal of work and no work. His fiction, poetry, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in numerous publications including River StyxCutBankIron Horse Literary Review, and The Chattahoochee Review.

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