Poem of the Week | April 01, 2019

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Saltville” by Hannah Perrin King. King was recently a finalist for our 2019 Editors’ Prize contest.

Hannah Perrin King’s work has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, The Adroit Journal, and Best New Poets, among others. She was a Tin House Summer Workshop Scholar, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and was the winner of AWP’s Kurt Brown Prize. Last May, she graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. She’s currently the senior affiliate editor at Alaska Quarterly Review.

 

Saltville

 

Curtains of kudzu, the taxidermied bees
of black-eyed susans, and a road that butcher-
strings the Blue Ridge Mountains. My mother

points to a hillside field above a barnyard, says
that’s where her cousin’s wife got lightning-
struck. Hot rain, cow pasture, the gate

chain still hot between her fingers. Switchgrass
sizzling. The funeral: bread pudding, ham & beans—
or that’s how I imagine it from the passenger seat

of this California-plated car as I’m explained
Appalachia—plucked and buttermilked and
spit out; the souring sweetness of an army cousin’s

breath, of noon-skinned porches. Half the roofs
in Smyth County are inside their buildings now. Skylights
of skylarks, and, someplace, the girl of my mother

balancing barefoot on the back of an unbridled,
unbroken Appaloosa. I want to understand her, to
get it right. But the frogs in the mud bah

like sheep here, if it rains hard, and the hog farm
on Old Wilderness Road got sold years ago. Poor folk
don’t often have histories. Instinctively, they bury them

like deer blood, the knots of intestines cooled
in the earth, so as not to draw predators, while above,
the dead poplars harden into sculptures of fire.

 

Author’s Note

I wrote “Saltville” in a state of deadline-induced panic early in the morning before a workshop with Sharon Olds at Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Weeks prior, my mother and I had driven through Virginia, and I’d been introduced to the landscape of her Appalachian heritage, a part of herself she’d kept half-submerged. Her childhood was a hard one. The details of it are thick and brutal and impossible to hold still. Like most inherited traumas, mine from my mother lack time and place. Suddenly, in the town of Saltville, in the heat of June, I had a place to set them down. Against that technicolor backdrop, I could imagine my mother before trauma, as a girl not yet bearing those crosses foisted upon her. I wrote “Saltville” because I wanted badly for that girl to say something back to me. It’s a sort of unrehearsed prayer to her, or a greeting with the farewell built in, as though waving from a passing car.

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