A Pair of Appalachian Poems By Savannah Sipple
South Fork, Kentucky River
South Fork lives in the shadows of mountains just big enough
to mine, like that shady spot in the woods where you used to
build your forts. He carries a Bible for protection, and a pistol
for back up. His daddy knows your daddy and your papaw,
and he’ll give you country eggs and fresh vegetables for free,
or at least at a reasonable price. Why, South Fork will wrap his arms
around you and never let go, even when you beg him to. You and South
Fork will coil together like black snakes, almost too tight to love.
South Fork will hold your hand and call you baby in front of his friends.
He will stain your skin darker than blackberries. You can’t wash him out.
South Fork reels you in like a big mouth bass. He will gut you and fry you up
fast. At the creek, South Fork will wash your sins away and fix you supper:
crawdads, hoecakes, cole slaw, and iced tea. You will be filled with more
than the Holy Ghost. South Fork will shake your hand and tell you he’s proud
of you, but be careful—if you eye another boy, if you turn your back on South Fork,
he’ll clean your clock until all you know to do is leave, but you won’t breathe
the same when you leave. South Fork will tug that string in your belly,
the one way down deep, and even when you’re far away and glad of it,
even if you’ve never left, a part of you will ache cause you might
try to leave South Fork, but, honey, South Fork don’t ever leave you.
Ruth Reminisces About the Town Bell
It was a black bell of liberty, of freedom, that sat
out by the courthouse, perched between two benches,
a queen among her bowing peasants. And, boy,
did the peasants gather there. On court days,
families sat around the bell, waiting to hear
their loved and hated ones’ fates, as they clung
more to their Mountain Dew bottles and Pall Malls
than to each other. Parents sometimes stopped
there on the way to the library to let the lone child
bask in the bell’s glory, as long as there weren’t too many
cigarette butts or wadded up pieces of gum strewn about.
Most just scurried by, afraid of the bell’s reputation,
of how drug deals went down there often. Pot and pills
slipped paw-to-paw as people practiced their church
handshakes. A prostitute, a ragged woman with small hands
and bleached hair, parked herself there
and sat like old candy waiting to be purchased.
Townies fought like gangs by the bell, their fists
gonging each other until the cops had no choice
but to bust it up. And the good kids, well, they laughed
at the bell, at her people, and in mockery of all
she stood for, pretended to be rough and fight,
and proclaimed, “Meet me at the bell, son,” which is
what they heard their poorer classmates call out
when a school scuffle ended in detention.
Life circled around the bell until they closed
one of the main roads into town, so now she sits
alone most days, slightly cleaner, but no less glorious.
Savannah Sipple is a poet from Eastern Kentucky. Her work has been published in Now & Then, Still, Appalachian Heritage, The Louisville Review, New Southerner, Motif 3: all the livelong day, and on the Accents Publishing Blog. She is also the co-creator and writer at Structure and Style, a poetry blog. These are all persona poems from a manuscript set in a small Appalachian town.