Gayle Ledbetter Newby, four poems

February 5, 2018

Family Plot  

 

The house was something of a mystery ,

tall, elegantly shaded, amidst dogtrots and shanties,

the sky so slowly covering the

silvered roof, like an aura,or perhaps a caul.

No one had lived there for years; windows boarded tightly.

Still the lawn was mowed neatly by a  small bespeckled man

who never spoke to us, never looked beyond

his rusted and famished tools,

endlessly plodding, manicuring our genteel friend.

 

We walked one day behind the avenue of wild plums, profusely grown,

down a leaden road channeled with saw weed,

brambles pulling at our summer jeans,

brittle rust bearing our feet and scraped arms,

till we came to an angels plot;

bit of green England in hill country hollows.

 

We had heard of England, vaguely.

 

But there it lay, a small grave plot, surrounded by lambs and cool stream breath.

Five little graves marked with stone angels, cherubs,

one a small picture dressed in finest Sunday clothes;

Died of Spanish Influenza, 1919.  Bloomed on Earth to Flower in Heaven.

We walked home, silently, past the grieving house,

filtering in our young minds, beauty, and decay and

that which is lovely and that which is not.

 

 

 

Summer Revival

 

After Mencken

 

We climbed that Jacob’s ladder every time,

higher and higher into the holy of holies,

going on to perfection, bowing to the preachers righteous words.

 

Disavowing lust for football players and homebrew makers, we

dropped our hemlines and raised our hymnody, felt the growing churn

of indignation in our young untethered hearts.

In the pale hell hot evenings we threw open the windows

and swirled our Jesus fans; sang ten stanzas of why not tonight?

Our plumb line,our assurance, black and white,

 

When the preacher drove away

with benedictions and baptisms,

and the hay mired dust stretched into the rotting corn stalks,

we saw the hate in our mother’s eyes,

the whip in our father’s hand; we closed our ears against the obligatory monthly sex .

Slinking to the garden we wielded hoe against the bracken laid stalks,

with each swift blow begging ;

Jesus save my wretched soul

    and

deliver me forever from this

Buckled Bible Belt.

 

 

 

Utah  

 

Truth is Utah, and beauty, sometimes,

if I remember the copper filled train

flying across the Wasatch

loaded deep with sainted wealth;

 

the way the mountains answered back ,

memory shadowed, slanted-

plurality of Utes and wives.

 

Leaving one fundy state for another isn’t truth,

or even necessarily right,

but  they didn’t know in Utah;

didn’t know of  

my life sentence  in the dungeon of men,

they hadn’t borne witness to

my lap dog love of scripted drugs.

 

So they nodded as we worked,

those staunch beehivers,

smiling at my Southern tongue,

wondering at the swell of

hurricane that had blown me so far west.

 

 

Lovejoy’s Station   

 

Georgia, August 24, 1864

 

Enoch James Dunham  1827-1864

 

They pulled into Lovejoy’s station at midnight,

August starshine everywhere.

All he’d heard about the sky was true,

Oglethorpe's dream,

older than Mississippi by a sight.

 

Not his first war, this fierce cannonade of blown apart arms and legs.

This gushing spray of bright red life upon his silt gray suit;

different from Mexico and the orderly march from Vera Cruz.

 

Deserters roamed  the starving hills,

hiding in lofts,bodies sold for a tankard of ale,

the devil cometh,

they joked.

 

But not he, for his mother had read in the pale eve of gloaming

the poems of Lovelace and Byron,

honor was his shield,

hunger, his companion.  

…...and thirst for the deep black valley sheltered in the oaks,

his pasture of fine red cows and good stock horses,

his little son, his baby daughter, his good young wife.

 

Walking from the train, he patted the book in his pocket.

 

Sherman, secure in his wrap of  Atlanta,

sent Kilpatrick to raid the Western Star.

Cries and curses around him,

flashes and hellfire, men cried like boys curled and panting, their

misguided rebel pride gladly traded for Lazarus’ cooling dip.

 

He dies near Lovejoy’s Station.

 

Such a beautiful name.

 

 

Gayle Ledbetter Newby has worked as a teacher, librarian, and as a social worker.  She has been published in decomP, Gravel, the Hiram Poetry Review, Literary Orphans, The Santa Fe Literary Journal and others.  Her chapbook Once Appointed  (Plan B Press) is due out this fall.  Gayle divides her time between Arkansas and Mississippi.

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