True Stories of the Snow Hill Dead
The long line files from the dirt tumult
and heads east down Snow Hill Road,
their grey eyes focused on the cell towers
strewn across the chestnut ocean of Cowee Bald.
Others join in, their dispossessors,
and then those bred to dispossess.
No breath but wind and sigh
and birds come beholding from sky
where the curve begins and arcs away
from the confluence where the road narrows
and travels above the valley
into the darkening woods.
Sunlight subsides and the forest sometimes
opens to fresh arteries punctuating the coves,
blood roads for the eventual.
On they climb, gathering kin from the receding woodline
and the rock quarry cataracts,
past the quarry walls now covered in moss,
the line grown long at the cell towers
and the once sacred summit where they can see
the Tuckaseegee River Valley and Kanaghi
and feel some peace beneath their cold feet
before returning and descending into the mire
of state highway 28 and the digital beckoning
of the Baptist Church and the trinket filled convenience store
where the new traders stand, plastic in hand,
still looking for a deal.
Country Living Redux
My mother is dying.
It was a brilliant day of fishing the Little Tennessee,
splendor, an old couple by a fire
where we took out at the mouth of Tellico Creek.
Back home it was dark.
I’d had a few beers
when the cars came down the road.
It was too much, the speed, the disrespect –
who were these new people
running roughshod across the land?
I’d had enough, it was at last too much,
so I chased them at breakneck speed
through the dark valley.
I got a license plate off one of them
and the next morning one of the cars
came creeping back up the road.
I drove up the road looking for him
and found him at the house
where his girlfriend lives.
He didn’t know jackshit about mystery,
he didn’t know about the seven crows in the meadow,
and the Parula that pecks endlessly at our window.
But he did know how to turn it on me
in front of the girl’s mother,
who was single with all six kids in the house.
Said he was scared I was gonna hurt him
so he drove faster,
said I was a crazy old man,
which there was at least something
we could agree on.
If he’d had a daddy there he might have slapped him,
made him apologize.
A hundred years ago here
I could have slapped him for him.
There were bags of garbage in a pile
in front of the house,
broken down cars,
a large dog barking at me the entire time.
My mother is dying.
Nothing felt resolved.
I drove back down the road slow,
the road that was once not,
alone, a dangerous and crazy old man.
My Neighbor Buys Ammo on Payday
At the long line of rural mailboxes
a neighbor greets me with an angry expression
and says, I’ve got some of your mail.
It’s a magazine with a photograph
of Hillary Clinton on the cover.
He makes some disparaging comments,
damns the autumn storm surge,
the cost of road gravel and ammunition.
It’s Monday night, Italian night we call it,
and we drown out his gunshots
with Pavarotti’s, Nessun Dorma,
which apropos to the moment,
means none shall sleep.
I was not thinking that at the time though.
I was thinking instead of the high cost
of living in the sticks at the jittery age of fifty-six.
Coming home that afternoon
I’d seen a boy on a trampoline
surrounded by cows, jumping hard,
as if attempting to escape the place
he’d been born into.
He wasn’t though, he could only see cows,
and an old motorboat,
sitting as it had for years,
like an artifact of a sea gone dry.
It was just me on the trampoline,
too weak to jump high enough,
too scared of falling off the edge.
Brent Martin lives in the Cowee community in western North Carolina where he and his wife run Alarka Expeditions, a nature and place-based business offering a wide variety of workshops and events. He is the author of three chapbook collections of poetry and of The Changing Blue Ridge Mountains: Essays on Journeys Past and Present. His poetry and essays have been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, Pisgah Review, Tar River Poetry, Chattahoochee Review, Eno Journal, New Southerner, Kudzu Literary Journal, Smoky Mountain News and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Southern Environmental Leadership Award and served for two years as the North Carolina Poetry Society’s Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet for the West. He is the author of George Masa’s Wild Vision: A Japanese Immigrant Imagines Western North Carolina, winner of the 2022 Wolfe Memorial Literary Prize.