With one foot upon your doorstep
I talk of unions, of baptism of the Holy Ghost and Israel
as though I care about these things,
spitting sidewise and nodding.
I need to speak of other things,
to lean forward until I smell the tobacco on your breath,
and tell you about a small boy’s letter to Santa,
the new red wagon in a crab grass yard,
and the father who sold his shotgun.
I need to grasp your shoulder until I feel the bone
beneath the skin,
for I saw the reverend’s bottle, tall as a steeple,
and his honey-haired Bathsheba before the Sunday sermon,
beautiful and bitter.
I cannot keep my voice down when I talk about the garden,
how I grew sorrowful in a festival of bees,
pondering the child artist’s crooked house,
the chewed pencil and a longing to join
the mad Crayola frieze above the blackboard.
Let me take off my coat and sit down.
I will show you the clipping.
He was 89 the paper said, stabbed by a youth in a Jesus shirt.
I see two mothers weak from birth,
wetting infant locks, breast feeding, fathers bringing flowers.
I will hold nothing back.
Indeed, I caught their scent on the urban air
like bitch dogs in heat, five abreast,
blue bicycles wearing their fragrance,
and in the hedged street, old men pretending not to look,
pumping gas, buying shirts.
I have breathed the sulfurous smoke of the coal camp
and seen the hump-shouldered miners come home
to wives in rags and ribbons.
I did not fight the war but heard old soldiers tell
how the orphans chased the tandems
for a piece of penny candy
until they fell beneath the wheels,
their scarecrow hands still reaching.
I want to look you in the eye and tell you everything –
how they bled and how I bleed.
How in the same garden’s fetid pool
I plunge my own saving hands
to give the Luna moth its seventh day.
With deep affection, Gayle Compton tells the story of Appalachia’s common people, allowing them to speak, without apology, in their own colorful language. He has earned three Appalachian Heritage Plattner Awards, three Kudzu Poetry Prizes, the George Scarbrough Poetry Prize, three New Southerner Literary Prizes and several Pushcart nominations. He has work recently published or forthcoming in Main Street Rag, A Narrow Fellow Poetry Journal, Appalachian Voice, New Southerner, and The Blue Collar Review. Gayle lives with his wife Sharon near Pikeville, Kentucky.