Saving Sgt. Billings (and other poems)

Saving Sgt. Billings

We did what we could, 
hid the bottles, drove what
was left of him deep 
into the yawning hollow, 
built a campfire, drank water 
from a long-handled gourd 
a galvanized bucket. 
We set up tents for triage,
counted his breaths, worried 
over irregular heartbeats, 
sweats, persistent vomiting,
his jacked up adrenal system.
We waited. Listened for a canvas 
zipper in the night, each long slow 
pull a call to duty, our legs folding 
over duct taped camp stools, 
tucked tight around the fire, 
his gut-fucked stories, stenched 
in blood and munitions, 
overpowering the woodsmoke’s 
curling carbons. 
Crows haunched on branches 
behind our backs, sentinels, 
silent as we wept.
We doused him in creek water, 
a sharp sheen of moon over our bones, 
recited communions, sang songs 
our mothers taught us in the womb, 
every neighbor dog and coyote 
within earshot barking hill to valley.
Some people think they
don’t deserve to be loved,
every story scratched
into the dirt an ache.
That week, down in the lower forty
we all got born again.
It was hard to say who saved who.

Subsequently Hereafter

If my name were an animal, 
it would be brown dog, dreaming
of squirrels to hound, near empty 
dinner plates, buried bone maps,      
the certainty of trees.
If a spice it would be fennel, 
musty after rain, drops swelling 
the bud-point of every bough,
a murmuration of starlings 
circling clouds.
If my name were a spirit, 
it would be barrel-aged, 
laughter laced in undertones 
of honey, fig and citrus, 
the burden for truth unfettered.
If a color? The hour before 
a thunderstorm, a cerulean warbler 
or stalwart stalks of chicory,
jagged petals roiling 
their tongues in waves.
If my name were music
it would be the hur-uff of a doe, 
hoof deep in acorns and orange- 
gold leaves, the cicadas 
calling me home, home, home.


I Look for my Dead Mother in New York

I lie fetal inside
the Statue of Liberty’s torch, 
the one removed in 1984, 
now displayed in the lobby, 
            its warped copper frame 
            a coiled energy about to unwind, 
            swoop like a wood thrush. 
I was not the daughter 
my mother needed.
She often warned, 
Lord, don’t never have children.
            Aren’t all of us born to be
            the receptacle of our parent’s flame,
            God the most popular protagonist?
Like the Lady, my mama was 
most beautiful in sunlight,  
puckered apron, trowel in one hand, 
Bible raised in the other, tired, poor.
She kept a clean house, grew 
collards and Heirloom tomatoes 
strapped to stakes like sinners 
begging the lash, sewed
all my clothes, a wisp of prayer 
with every up/down of the needle, 
trusting one day her willful daughter 
would fettle herself out. 
            Heeled under my mother’s eyes, 
            the smudge of every lusterless day 
            she endured. 
This dream? 
A wood thrush taking wing, 
too late, too late.


  • As Poet Laureate of Ohio, Kari Gunter-Seymour focuses on lifting up underrepresented voices including incarcerated adults and women in recovery. She is an artist in residence for the Writing the Land project, a Pillars of Prosperity Fellow for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, and the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project and editor of its anthology series Women Speak. Her anthology I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices received the 2023 “Book of the Year Award” from the American Book Fest. Her work has been featured in Verse Daily, World Literature Today, The New York Times and Poem-a-Day. Her third full-length collection of poetry, Dirt Songs, is published by EastOver Press.

  • Film stills taken from the short film “I Like Tomorrow” by Jennifer Reeder and Nancy Andrews. From the Wexner Center for the Arts description of the film: “Conceived of by longtime friends Reeder and Andrews while the two were working as artists in residence in the Wexner Center's Film/Video Studio on their individual films “Blood Below the Skin” and “The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes,” respectively, “I Like Tomorrow “is a sci-fi musical that combines live action and animation. As Reeder and Andrews recount, “After work one evening, over cocktails and possibly complaining about the then recently released film Gravity, there appeared a pen and a napkin and an idea about a lonely lady astronaut. From the start, the short film was conceived with actress Michole Briana White in mind.” See the film for free until the end of August 2021 at