I am so excited that Garrison Keillor selected this poem by Rick Mulkey, one of my wonderful poet-friends, to read on his radio program, The Writer's Almanac. I met Rick and his fiction-writer-essayist-wife Susan Tekulve, in South Carolina; they were wonderful hosts and guides while I spent four weeks teaching as the Julia Peterkin Visiting Writer at Converse College in Spartanburg. Fine writers, awesome cooks, and fun people—I first met Rick and Susan when I won the Julia Peterkin fiction award, and I came to the campus to give my reading. Susan picked me up at the airport around 8:30 p.m. and asked if I needed to eat anything. I’m sure she was expecting to offer one of Spartanburg’s nice sit-down restaurants…but I mentioned a local landmark, The Beacon Drive-In, a ramshackle, old-time drive-in famous for its sweet iced tea and “chili-cheese-a-plenty,” which basically is a cheeseburger buried in no less than six inches of onion rings, french fries, and chili. You have to love someone who's willing to eat that with you!
Back to the literary side of things…I highly recommend Rick’s new book of poetry, Toward Any Darkness, where this evocative poem is found. It was featured on The Writer's Almanac on December 1, 2007.
by Rick Mulkey, from Toward Any Darkness. © Word Press, 2007.
Where are you Clyde Moody, and you Elmer Bird,
"Banjo Man from Turkey Creek," and you Ed Haley,
and Dixie Lee singing in that high lonesome way?
I feel the shadow now upon me...
Come you angels and play those dusty strings.
You ain't gonna work that sawmill Bother Carter,
nor sleep in that Buchanon County mine. Clawhammer
some of that Cripple Creek song. Fiddle me a line
of "Chinquapin Hunting." Shout little Lulie, shout, shout,
I need to hear music as lonesome as I am,
I need to hear voices sing words I've forgotten.
This valley's much too dark now.
Sunset right beside us, sunrise too far away.
I haven't heard a tipple creak all day,
and everyone I loved left
on the last Norfolk & Southern train.
Go here to listen to the poem being read. (How to listen)
Many of the poems in the book cover the same southwestern Virginia, mining town landscape. Here's another one that I admire:
Abbs Valley Abstract
by Rick Mulkey, from Toward Any Darkness. copyright Word Press, 2007.
We are steepled churches on Route 460
starved for light. We are the summer
of potato blight. Pressed down
by ancient seas, we're limestone quarries
that lived two lives, as tide and rock.
We're born to cracked facades
and leaky roofs. Anchored by root and briar,
we never move. Our cats grow feral
on barnyard mice. We bark like squirrels, or say
nothing at all. We are the shout
rising from the mine's black throat,
and the quiet after the shout. We stand
in rain and rotting hay. We paint road signs
that read "Dangerous Curve," Dead End," "Keep Out."