Emma Aylor's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, New Ohio
Review, Mid-American Review, Pleiades, and the Cincinnati Review, among other
journals, and she received Shenandoah's 2020 Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia
Poets. She lives in Lubbock, Texas (USA).
The bad women in my family
put themselves ahead. They drank
they smoked they did not marry
easy, hearts strawberries
cold and false from the grocery
that shick like apples in the cut.
They held no real names are well
and oh and absent sound. Were
cross not good I'm told
for bearing babies. Their children
carried or not passed through
many hands, like everyone else's.
Their pasts draped no place
for questions. I don't know what
they did with thousands of days
knuckles swollen with use
bobby pins parting thin white hair
flat waxen scalp pulled through.
One grandmother we call a saint a good
woman for no complaints. Spoke
of herself only after a lord I or
you don't want to hear about that.
She waited folded hands. Spent
youth raising three boys and age
penciling library books with call
numbers. By thirteen I couldn't fit
my waist in her preserved skirt.
Crossword each morning. Died at 100
after all had visited and the very minute
she was alone. Don't borrow trouble.
Today it's nine months since I've been
in Virginia, in January: no soft leaves, just needles
and brittle plates overlapping magnolias;
no rain, just mist. It is still then, though October.
I am still then, winter sky white against my dark hair
and fingers red at the joints from the wet
in a rented room five times my age.
It is nearly déjà vu in substance,
but in reverse, the vardøger: a spirit
with the subject's essence—scent, footfalls,
air—and witnesses believe they've seen
or heard the actual person
before their body arrives.
The horses we sold to stay
with their land saw me steal
between their flanks from the fence
I dug a hole to patch. I'll be there again.
To guard the soul, that's how the word
breaks in. There are three secret sounds
that can carry me home. The fragrance and voice
come ahead to split space
for the self that will arrive, if it should
arrive. This is not, of course, stable.
The three things wrong with what he saw were
the time of day, the direction I walked,
and my clothes. I was not the same.
I was daydreaming
about a place when my image
appeared holy to percipients there.
It is the longest time I've been from there.
I have seen that I will be back
and never back, my muck boots
stuck in the channeled mud
of its midwinter; and I have caught the face
I'll never keep, held only
for observers to note
a mask that changes every year; and I have seen
a pared self precede. Spangled hemlocks
arrange rows like eyelashes
all up the mountains I used to be.
Blue Ridge Parkway at the James River Crossing
It depends on what shows in the sky—the color that spreads out in the river. At placid times, the water planes near to powder blue. Today, before the storm, the clouds mottle low and hang; the James gunmetals, and silver lights drift under the tree shadows like oracular catfish. Riparian trees seam land to water: spangled black walnut, soft maple, swamp white oak, sourwood after its late bloom, black gum, river birch. The close storm blackens the canopies to bottle green, and what light there is turns the trunks to ash: lines on lines along the gorge, water wide, lines broken, unbroken, broken. What light there is reveals a blue heron fishing from a log. Watersnakes loop invisibly near the surface, I stand with my mother in the middle of the bridge, and no cars come. As the Parkway closes behind us for the hurricane, fresh rain specks the windshield; all our land's colors narrow to one and darken. What will float up in the river.
Back to Front.