Five Poems by Kari Gunter-Seymour

Amesville Girls

sip Squirt soda from lime green
returnable glass bottles pulled ice cold from
the chest cooler at Kasler’s corner grocery,
retrieve the dime, stuff it in the jukebox
at Fanny’s Family Diner, dance

The Bus Stop or The Sprinkler
to AC/DC, say words like warsh
and fixin’ to go, spit watermelon seeds
good as the boys, swim naked in the crick,

sneak out to sleep in the graveyard
to be closer to their grannies,
ink ballpoint tattoos on each other’s biceps,
wear fruit-flavored lip gloss to softball practice,

dream Guns N’ Roses’ tour bus
stops for lunch at the diner
and Slash or Duff McKagan
kiss their cherry mouths, finger
their buttons, white-knight them away.


Where We Come from Can Break Us

She was curious, always questions
from that one, a nine-year-old
going on twenty, sneaking
the backwoods to my porch swing,
earless to her mama’s played-out rebukes.

I was a new mother, alone
more than was fit.
The baby loved her singing
and she would brush my hair
for hours, jawing tales
about her made up life.

I often think of her hangdog
eyes and heavy lashes,
hope she was able to save herself
from that broke down place.
Who’m I trying to kid?


How Could a Woman

He could not climb in the driver’s
seat without lighting up a joint.
There I’d be, juggling bunting, bottle,
binky, strapping the baby in his car seat,
while my husband sat, rolling a fat one,
lip-syncing whatever was blasting
from the radio, sealing the deal
with nimble finger work,
a slick slip of the tongue.
He would key the ignition, flip open
a lighter, take a long slow toke,
cough hard enough to crack a rib,
ease into gear. What soured me most
was how pleased he was with himself,
that and the fact I stuck with him
for close on two years.


True Grit

Sweet Child O’Mine
spun throaty on the boombox,
only CD I owned. The baby
squatted in his second-hand
jolly jumper, clipped at the top
of the door frame—bouncing
as if the floor was a trampoline,
he an Olympic trainer.

I took the afternoon off work
to have my wisdom teeth pulled,
groggy from the laughing gas,
ticked off at my spouse,
who’d obviously been rolling joints,
leaving behind a whole mess
of seeds and stems, brushed
from coffee table to shoddy carpet.

Behind on the electric bill,
car tires bald, the twit once
hocked my high school class ring
to buy an ounce of pot.

I admit it. I allowed myself
to be diminished way too long.
I might never have culled my courage
had it not been for the baby,
the way he carefully cupped my jaw
as I lifted him from the jumper.
Love is or it ain’t.


Hanky-Panky Poker

We women dressed as if headed
to the French Riviera—frilly skirts,
teased-up hairdos, shiny lip gloss.
The men wore flannel shirts,
stunk of sour mash and tobacco.

It got intense. Five Card Draw,
nickel ante, quarter limit—
Texas Hold’em if we drank tequila shots.
There were some shining moments
before the whole shebang went briny.

Sarah Sipple called a nature break,
gone too long to the facilities
and Danny Munford who’d stepped outside
to do the same, got caught bare-assed,
Levi’s around his ankles, rutting Sarah
like some randied white tail buck.

All things considered, we switched
to Euchre, less hard liquor,
more chips and dip.
Danny Munford went tail-ass-tits to the wind.
Phil Sipple got hisself a new partner.


Kari Gunter-Seymour is the Poet Laureate of Ohio. Her poetry collections include Alone in the House of My Heart (Ohio University Swallow Press, 2022) and 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. Her work has been featured on Verse Daily, Cultural Daily, World Literature Today, the New York Times and A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the editor of I Thought I Heard A Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices, funded by the Academy of American Poets and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Women of Appalachia Project’s anthology series, Women Speak. Gunter-Seymour is a retired instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University; the founder, curator, and host of Spoken & Heard, a seasonal performance series featuring poets, writers, and musicians from across the country; an artist in residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts and a 2022 Pillar of Prosperity Fellow for the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.

Two Poems by Kari Gunter-Seymour

Because Autumn Always Clotheslines Me

Already the sumac—ripened,
rusty red leaves, stark among the greens.
Not yet, I say. I say it every August,
though leafy lime katydids warn me,
chameleoned against the Japanese maples,
suddenly out-singing even the cicadas.
Stink bugs feast in the garden, a melancholy
thistle bends to a rumor of breeze.


Power Out on the Mountain

I started out this day elbowing
my grandmother’s forget-me-not
teacup off the counter beside the sink.
Sobbed as I swept a million jagged
memories, scattered across the kitchen floor.

Now my feet up, a glass of sweet tea,
I watch birds at the feeder.
A quarrel of house sparrows peck
at the smalls, gorge themselves on seed,
as if they deserve to.

I once told my grandmother a rich man
hurt me. Her bent head told me
to keep that story to myself.
I revisit what it means to be ruined
over and over in my sleep, imagine ways
to dismember him, as if that might help
glue my own broken pieces back together.


Kari Gunter-Seymour’s poetry collections include A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen, winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award and Serving. Her poems appear in numerous journals and publications including Poem-A-Day, Verse Daily, Rattle, World Literature Today, The NY Times, and on her website: A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) and editor of the WOAP anthology series, Women Speak. She is a recipient of a 2021 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship and Poet Laureate of Ohio.

Five Poems by Kari Gunter-Seymour


Sunday morning, the alarm set
for dawn, I gargle lemon water
to loosen phlegm, open vocal cords.
Mother postured at the piano, paces me
up and down the major scales,
Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?

I dress in a starched white blouse,
an A-line skirt hemmed precisely
below the knee. Mother stands behind me
in the mirror– cat eye glasses, Pentecostal bun
– hot-curls my ragged mane into
a semblance of respectable.

Later, in the choir loft, mother leans,
her coffee breath all over me,
whispers loud enough
for the soprano section to hear,
You’re too pretty to be so fat.



The last stars arc, dim the sash.
Wails the pitch of a coalmine’s siren
quiver my temporal bone, a song to dig a hole.
My grandfathers, coal-caked, muscle
and blood, yoked to Peabody scrip,

sinking shaft or pit, railroad cars tippled,
cinder and soot smutting miles of track,
valley fills steeped in acid spoil,
one hundred years of forest sheared.

Pained as I am to reflect, my great-greats,
pigeon-toed, gap-mouthed, pondering
how the hard-working find themselves
both proud and begging, held fast,
like a flag that never waves.

Who hasn’t rationalized themselves
a noble son or daughter, their life tightly
squeezed between two fists?

Tonight, roaming the ether,
I visit their graves, blush-pink peonies
to decorate each stone. Saying nothing,
I write, one finger in dust,
Fire in our hearts, fire in our souls,
forever together, “down in the hole”



Daddy didn’t like watermelon,
he loved cantaloupe, “musk-melon”
our family called it. He would
cut one in half, scape the seeds,
add a shake of salt inside the cavity, feast.

Daddy and his people grew up
in Putnam County, bare foot, feral.
He declared cantaloupes grown
along the East Fork Obey River,
where the air sweats and melons
swell like teats on a bluetick,
the best on earth.

Every year, late July, our family
made the pilgrimage. He’d sniff,
and thump, roll them over,
looking for blanched spots
on their netted rinds, evidence
of ripening in the field.
Like all best things, they didn’t last long.

Come mid-summer, I’ll make my way
to Putnam County. In spirit, my Daddy
will ride shotgun, shirt sleeves rolled,
collar open, puffing a Parliament Menthol
as I speed down old Highway 53, mouth watering,
the bottomlands calling me home.



Lakeside, crickets and stars,
my host said it was a Loon,
but the southeastern Ohio in me
heard coyote, the long slow wail
that comes from generations of hard luck,
skin sagging loose from the rib.

Considered the white trash of the four-footed,
you probably don’t know that tax dollars paid
fifty bucks a head to kill sixty-eight thousand
coyotes in 2019, or that forty-six percent
of Appalachian school-aged children
experienced food insecurity the same year.

Revered as first teacher by the Indigenous,
they say it was Coyote in the dark land of mists,
who called insects, birds and animals to council,
to decide if First Man and First Woman
should pass into the Third World.

Tonight, moon full, air brusque,
those forsaken dream of full bellies.
Loon flaps iridescent wings,
rears her dagger-like bill,
howls Coyote’s death song.



The conversation began
with a false step, everything
that followed was a downward
plunge, the silence left
in the middle of a sentence.

Said she felt like she was –
what was the word?
Only to realize it was one
of the first she’d learned,
one of her earliest memories.

After that, to know
it could happen again,
did happen, everything transient,
leaving her like her child self,
struggling to fill the gap.

Elsewhere, people wake,
make coffee, listen to the news.
She is focused on the process
of loss, dropping dead words
into private conversations.

As if somewhere in the mix,
she might find an end
to the mortification,
or just one day the voice
inside her head does not judge.


Kari Gunter-Seymour’s poetry collections include A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen, winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award and Serving, runner up, Yellow Chair Review Chapbook Award. Her poems appear in numerous journals and publications including Verse Daily, Rattle, Lascaux Review, The NY Times, and on her website: A ninth generation Appalachian, she is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) ( and editor of the WOAP anthology series, Women Speak. She is a recipient of a 2021 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship and Poet Laureate of Ohio.