Mountains is the last to change leaf color this late
November. In fact, from its center outward all is
Green until one foot from its branches’
Tips where there is traditional color change from yellow to orange.
I don’t know all my
Trees, just one of the myriad
Things I have failed to learn along the
Way, like why oak leaves turn pale burnt
Brown early but then cling to their branches for months before letting go.
I should have asked an
Artist. I’m betting Russell May would have known each
Vein of leaf and by heart how
Each leaf names its tree by shape, texture, and
Time of color change.
Tree reminds me of the last
Rainbow I saw in dirty, industrial Ashland.
Behind a smoking coke plant, it spanned the sky from ground to
Ground with a depth and width of spectrum colors that I had never seen before.
Like that rainbow this
Tree is beauty in contrast to the
Ugliness of barren limbs before the first
Snowfall – beauty made more
Beautiful in the absence of same.
I like things that are resistant to
Change – my old boots I’d like to be buried in that never show sole wear and my old
Leather coat that I bought for less than sticker from a
Store manager who did not know leather and so could be convinced
Flaws were present that made the coat worth less.
Had a student one semester who graduated from
High school with me in ’71 and had seen
Service in the military, even claiming to have met
Nixon so that he knew Nixon’s favorite
Drink – bourbon and branch water.
He said to me one day after
Class, “You know, you are just like your were in high school,”
And that I took as the best compliment I had ever received
Because I want my children young again, and just like that tree I intend
to find the name for,
I have always disliked change.
If You Notice Sunsets...
If you notice sunsets,
If your attention stays
For more than a moment,
It could be that you are from mountains,
Where sunsets are wintertime precious few.
Winter in the mountains is coffee
With cream for sky,
Billowing on the surface
Like freshly poured creamer,
Turning coffee to frosty ambient cold.
Clouds of cream are fog-poured upward,
Swirled with wind stirring straws
Where they sky settle,
Forming the skin of milk,
Curdled not by the warmth of sun but by the passage of time.
But you may notice sunsets
Because they were the favorite color of a hero of yours
Or a parent too real for hero status.
Sunset idolatry can be passed
Down through generations, you know.
Your grandmother feared storms
But venerated sunsets.
She longed to see one by the sea
But did not drive
And was never driven there.
Oh, she read about ocean sunsets,
But only the best writing evokes sight,
And even then the colors described lack accurate depth of contrast
So she settled for the encouragement of sunsets
By drinking her coffee black.
The Best Christmas Gifts
The best Christmas gifts are anonymously given;
From shadowy givers
Given, they are existent but from hidden places and nondescript time:
On the day of my father’s interment,
A pearl red cardinal darting to and from the blue spruce outside
A wading bird
Who followed me from one lake to the downstream area
Of an older another,
A great blue heron, fisher of trout and of men,
A downpour rain
And the resulting fill up of nearby mountain stream,
The sound of its flow early summer subdued by cicadas’ songs
Fell silent during the prolonged drought
Of a long, troubled late summer and fall,
The soothing sound of that stream reborn,
Fed anew from
Rain gorged spring,
Winds, sounding like a train
As they moan through forest canopy on the high tops of the mountains,
The flutter of wings
From an angel who stands statue guard,
Facing a cemetery at the entrance of Oaklawn.
In its hands it holds a red bird that I touch when I go there to visit
Or to open my Christmas gifts.
Professor of English Ken Slone received the Great Teacher Award in 1999 for teaching his students to take pride in their Appalachian heritage and to write from their hearts. His book of poetry, At Home in the Mountains, was published in 2001. His book, Mountain Teacher – An Eastern Kentucky Teacher Tells His Story was published in 2005. After earning his graduate degree from Xavier University, Ken returned to his home county of Johnson. He is retired from Big Sandy Community & Technical College after a 36-year teaching career. He does freelance writing for SLS Consulting, Pasadena, CA, and he and his wife Debbie spend winter months on the beach at North Myrtle Beach, SC.