Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2018 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two Appalachian Poems

I don’t write much poetry anymore. When I do, the poem is generally an Appalachian poem about folks who own land—or who are owned by it.

The Interview, a poem I wrote not long ago, won third place in the 2008 Virginia Writers Club contest. The $25 I won covered the cost of my lunch. I've reformatted the poem a bit to fit the blog, but the words are the same.

The Interview

© 2008 by Becky Mushko

Sure, I’ll talk to a fine looking young feller like you.

Don’t get much company nowadays.
Got plenty of time, nothing to do but set here.

Teacher sent you, did she?
“Get out and talk to some old codger,” I reckon she said.

Well, you found one. Pull yourself up a chair.
Little closer—I ain’t gonna bite.

Ain’t got enough teeth left for serious biting nohow.

Now whatcha wanna know?

What did I do? Farmed two hundred acres
like my daddy and his before him.

Tobacco, corn, and wheat—them was the money crops.

How? Me and a mule
struggling against a hard ground.
Many a time, I’uz tempted to fling down the reins,

leave the mule standing in the middle of a furrow,
and just up and leave.

Where would I go?
Town, I reckon. Work in a factory or a mill.

Make reg’lar money. Be somebody.

But I never did go.

What stopped me?

That farm held me tighter’n a spider holds a fly.
Sucked the juices right outta me.
Left me the old dry husk you’re looking at,

tangled so tight in its web I’d never get loose.

Then, too, I couldn’t work walled in.
I’d got used to the sky, y’see,
everything growing green around me.

Besides, who’d look after the place?
I can’t stand
to see a good farm
overrun with pokeweed and cat-briers.

Folks held me, too. Family ties grip tight, that’s sure.

By the time I buried Mama and Daddy,
I had me a wife and a crop a’ kids.

Time was, I couldn’t go nowhere
without one a’ them chaps
onto my pants’ leg tighter’n a tick on a dog.

Then they growed up,
scattered like seeds in the wind.
Not a one took root.

They come back, visit,
brag how good they got it in town.

Did I ever go modern?

Well, yeah—got a tractor, y’know.

Then more and more machines.
Debts piled up high
as Mama’s pancakes on Sunday breakfast.

Did I make a good living?
Heck, no!
But I reckon I made me a right good life.

Anythin’ else you wanna know?

One of my favorites is “Aunt Maudie,” which was published in Stitches: The Journal of Appalachian Literature more than a decade ago. It also appeared in Blue Ridge Traditions and was a part of Homespun, a 1999 presentation about Blue Ridge culture.

Aunt Maudie
© 1997 by Becky Mushko

Settling herself in a split-bottom chair
on the remnants of her front porch,
her hands weather-beaten as the porch rail
she grips to steady herself,
she leans forward. With age weighing
heavy on her like a winter shawl,
she says, “When you got land, you got something.
Clothes, fancy things—they don’t last.
Husbands run off; children grow
up and away from you.
Land, it’s always there.”

Her land lies too close to town
To be much account for serious farming;
Not close in enough to fetch top dollar, even
if she’d consider selling.

A run-down trailer park leans so close
against her, she shuts her front door
in summer to keep out
the brassy voices of women
shrilling at drunken husbands
who drink to escape
the brassy voices.

Over the past seventy years,
what was her grandpa’s five hundred acres
was chopped of, whittled down, doled out
to one heir or another: razor thin slices
like her grandma’s smokehouse ham
served to hungry-eyed young’uns
til the plate was only a slice
away from being licked clean.

The one slice left is hers;
Unlike the others, she’d not been tempted
(”Not by love nor money!” she brags)
to sell herself out.

“Well, I don’t need much,” she allows.
“I’ll make do with enough for a garden plot
long as I can find somebody to come plow.”

From under her sun-bonnet, she squints
Past other people’s laundry flapping
On rusty clotheslines, and sees the farm
the way it was when she was a girl:
Traffic noise transforms into lowing cows
or clanking trace chains; her spindly tomato plants
fighting each other for sun
against the fence become a crop
spreading green over too many acres
to look at all at once.

Every so often,
after a rain, she smells
the sweetness of wet earth,
new-plowed and waiting.

“You ain’t got land,”she says,
her voice rich with conviction,
“you ain’t got nothin’.”


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Blogger CountryDew said...

Those are great poems!

11:40 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Thank you!

11:50 AM  
Blogger Claudia Condiff said...

I didn't know you were a poet!
Should have guessed with your eye for the abstract...nice!

4:02 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Actually I'm not. I crank out a poem every couple of years.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I enjoyed them both. Thanks for sharing!!

3:26 PM  
Blogger Marion said...

Excellent portrayal of rural life. Liked the picture of the old house being swallowed up by big trees.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

I love the Interview! My grandfather on my mother's side is from Barnardsville N.C. Your poem reminds me of that community. Love your pictures too!

9:58 AM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Those are beautiful and touching poems and I don't even like reading poetry! I guess I like yours!

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Collins Honenberger said...

This morning in Palmetto, Florida I heard a cousin of your'n, the Florida Cowboy Poet, an original cracker or cowhunter as they call them down here. He recited poetry for more than an hour, touched on the history of cowhunters, Florida, his own family, 9-11, love and loss. An incredible entertainer with a heart as big as Florida itself.
You would have loved him. I'd love to get him up to the Book Festival next year. I'll try to send you his website when I find his brochure. Hope you're busy writing more Iva B. Peevish stories.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Sounds like you're having a good time in Florida.

As for Ida B. Peevish, she has retired. The newspaper publisher decided in December that they couldn't pay columnists anymore. I elected not to write for free.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Barb said...

Becky, these are so warm and real I could almost smell tobacco curing in the barns and ripe strawberries warming in the sun. Thanks for sharing with us; we take too little time reading good poetry and too much time reading silly FB posts!

2:31 PM  

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