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The Quiet We Share

Grief is an eternal shape-shifter. One of Appalachia’s most resonant voices guides us through it with three poems.

GHOST

Hours“Grief never goes away. It might change shape but it    
Hoursalways has its teeth in you.”—Allison Moorer

Hours after she died I was shocked
to find myself on the kitchen floor, howling
in pain. I had never known grief could become
physical, something that lurks in your guts,
uncurls, and demands to be let loose. 

Seven years later and sometimes her scent still
cuts the air. Cigarettes and Elizabeth
Arden Red Door perfume. Seven years later
and still I pick up the phone to call her. Seven
years later and I can’t watch her on film. Her
presence in motion conjures too tangible
an absence. But I often put on the songs she
loved the most. “Night Moves” and “He Stopped Loving Her
Today.” “Wild and Blue” or “Don’t Let Our Love Start
Slipping Away.” I want to wail the way
I did in those first days but I don't anymore.

Other times I dance, imagining her there.
Eyes closed, lost to music. I used to believe
in ghosts. These days, I don’t. She would be one
if she could. She would jump out and scare me
if she was able. She'd throw back her head and laugh
with her mouth open before firing up a
Winston Light and savoring every draw
and exhalation. She would be a smoking ghost,
one whose only sound is the critch of the metal
wheel on her red Bic. She only visits me

in my dreams, and there she does not talk. We walk
together along the lake bank. She bends,
chooses the perfect rock, skips it across the calm,
green water. The waves are so gentle I can’t
hear them supping at the shore. The quiet we share
in these reveries is the opposite of lament.

GLOAMING

There is a cool that often moves over the mountains
in the evening. The day eases away, so secretly
no one notices until it is gone. The peach light
stands like steam along the horizon, changing the shape
of things. Night does not give a hint of arrival
and for a while, there is just the cool, when there is no
dark and no day, stretched out like ice. No clocks ticking
the minutes, no movement of the earth, nothing growing
or changing. This is the gloaming and the cool peaceful, soft. Mist
seeps out of the jagged cliffs like ghosts. The breeze stirs
the trees, dampening thirsty leaves. No night sounds are heard.
One bird hollers far up the mountain and its lonesome
cry cracks the stillness. The crickets and katydids and all
the little live things begin their prayers in the trees and
grasses, on creekbanks where the water slips over mossy
rocks. The kudzu exhales and rests. The wild grapes offer
their scent to the twilight. This is an evening like
that. Two men work side by side in their garden, chopping
out the weeds that grow most rampant in high summer. No
one sees them briefly touch hands. Boys lean into the mouths
of their cars with grease smeared up their arms and across their bare
chests, their shining tools lying at their feet. Young wives
sweep the porches or break beans. A woman picks dead
petals from her plants, singing under her breath. Children
must be called in from playing. They smell of sweet sweat and
the ridge spine, of leaves and dirt and the mossy rocks. Their
shoes are still damp from stomping through the creek. A woman
stands at the kitchen sink, finishing the supper dishes,
lost in thought as she looks out the window. A darkening
yard. Lightning bugs drift up from the ground beneath the oldest
trees. What happened to the girl she used to be? She doesn’t
recall her slipping away. A whippoorwill sings. A
hoot owl gives up its shivering cry. A mother fox
creeps out, sees that the shadows are falling, and ventures
forth to hunt. She will carry food to her babies
who are already sleeping, far back in the den. A bobcat
stirs, green eyes glaring over the hills as the western
sky purples into complete darkness. My people
on their porches, living in the cool of the day.
They love this place even when they don’t. They have dreams
just like you. But no one ever thinks about that. This is
what it was like when I was a boy, when the world was young
and I believed nothing would ever change. In the gloaming,
in the cool of the day, before I lost my people,
and before I lost my place in the sweet old world.

FOR YOU WHO HAVE LOVED OLD DOGS

(and especially for Johnny Lackey)

Old Andy is a big dog, black as a
night sky in the most lonesome winter months.
He is fat even though he doesn’t eat
much these days. His man is one of the best
folks I know. They were hiking deep in the
high mountains when good Andy’s back legs stopped
their work. The old dog folded himself down
on the path, his eyes lighting on his man’s
to apologize. My friend carried him
nearly a mile, this great sprawl of blessed
animal, who must have lain in his arms
both thankful and ashamed. They collapsed
together at the end of the steep trail,
holding on to each other, exhausted. 

I’m thankful for you who take care of old
dogs. I’m glad you have one another when
you need a friend the most, that you’ve had times
of stillness, watching the world, that you know
the grace of silence together. I thank
the infinite eternity and the
God of my understanding for people
like you, who carry them when they need you.

Three times now I’ve held an old dog
in my arms as they left me. Three times
I felt their heartbeats fade away on my 
palm, witnessing a shooting star become
more darkness. The end. All is lost and gone. 

I’ve grieved for each of them just as much as
I have for people I’ve loved. I’ve carried
the sweet sorrow with me, a heft I wish
I did not have to bear but one that I
will always cherish now. The burden
of my empty arms is the greatest weight. 

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About the author

Author Profile

Silas House is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of seven novels, including Lark Ascending, which won the 2023 Southern Book Prize. He is a 2024 Grammy finalist, a 2022 recipient of the Duggins Prize (the largest award for an LGBTQ writer in the nation), and he currently serves as the poet laureate of Kentucky.  Recently he has been published in Time, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and many other publications. He is currently at work on a poetry collection and a new novel.

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