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
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.
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
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
A wood thrush taking wing,
too late, too late.
Kari Gunter-Seymour’s poetry collections include A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions 2020), winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award, and Serving (Crisis Chronicles Press 2020 Expanded Edition). Her poems appear in numerous journals and publications including Verse Daily, Rattle, The NY Times, and on her website: www.karigunterseymourpoet.com. Her work was selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey to be included in the PBS American Portrait crowdsourced poem, Remix: For My People. She is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) (www.womenofappalachia.com) and editor of the WOAP anthology series, Women Speak volumes 1-6. She is Poet Laureate of Ohio.
Jennifer Reeder and Nancy Andrews
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 wexarts.org/film-video/nancy-andrews-and-jennifer-reeder.