August 18, 2021 Courtney Napier

“Appalachian Elegy”

“listen little sister / angels make their hope here / in these hills” Writer and poet bell hooks explores in this poem the significance of the Appalachian hills to generations of people — young and old, alive and ascended. This nurturing magic is to be appreciated by our gentle keeping of the land they, and we, call home.

Appalachian Elegy (Sections 1-6)
By bell hooks


hear them cry
the long dead
the long gone
speak to us
from beyond the grave
guide us
that we may learn
all the ways
to hold tender this land
hard clay direct
rock upon rock
charred earth
in time
strong green growth
will rise here
trees back to life
native flowers
pushing the fragrance of hope
the promise of resurrection


such then is beauty
against all hope
you are here again
turning slowly
nature as chameleon
all life change
and changing again
awakening hearts
steady moving from
unnamed loss
into fierce deep grief
that can bear all burdens
even the long passage
into a shadowy dark
where no light enters


night moves
through the thick dark
a heavy silence outside
near the front window
a black bear
stamps down plants
pushing back brush
fleeing manmade
roaming unfettered
any place can become home
strutting down
a steep hill
as though freedom
is all
in the now
no past
no present


earth works
thick brown mud
clinging pulling
a body down
heard wounded earth cry
bequeath to me
the hoe the hope
ancestral rights
to turn the ground over
to shovel and sift
until history
rewritten resurrected
returns to its rightful owners
a past to claim
yet another stone lifted to
throw against the enemy
making way for new endings
random seeds
spreading over the hillside
wild roses
come by fierce wind and hard rain
unleashed furies
here in this touched wood
a dirge a lamentation
for earth to live again
earth that is all at once a grave
a resting place a bed of new beginnings
avalanche of splendor


small horses ride me
carry my dreams
of prairies and frontiers
where once
the first people roamed
claimed union with the earth
no right to own or possess
no sense of territory
all boundaries
placed by unseen ones
here I will give you thunder
shatter your hearts with rain
let snow soothe you
make your healing water
clear sweet
a sacred spring
where the thirsty
may drink
animals all


listen little sister
angels make their hope here
in these hills
follow me
I will guide you
careful now
no trespass
I will guide you
word for word
mouth for mouth
all the holy ones
embracing us
all our kin
making home here
renegade marooned
lawless fugitives
grace these mountains
we have earth to bind us
the covenant
between us
can never be broken
vows to live and let live

bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), “Appalachian Elegy (Sections 1-6)” from Appalachian Elegy. Copyright © 2012 by bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins). Online version published by The Poetry Foundation.

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