Cousins

Kathryn Stripling Byer Click to read more...

Kathryn Stripling Byer has published six books of poetry, including The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest (Texas Tech U. Press, AWP Award Series, 1986), Wildwood Flower (LSU, 1992) and Descent (LSU, 2012).  Her poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in newspapers and journals ranging from Atlantic Monthly to Appalachian Heritage.  She was the 2007 recipient of the Hanes Award in Poetry from the Fellowship of Southern Writers and has served as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate.  Her most recent collection is Descent (LSU, 2012). She lives in Cullowhee, N. C., surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We used to steal roses.
Not to mention the usual zinnias and batchelor buttons.
We stashed them in woodpecker holes,
arranged them in cowpies.  Dinner’s served,
we announced to the cud-chewers.

The old women scolded us. No blossoms left
for the numerous vases they locked in their cupboards.
But we knew their lantana always came back.
And the elephant ears. Azaleas in early spring.
Deep south, our spring always came early,
earlier now that the wet shawls of air droop
above us like clematis, the climate gone wandering.
Gone  lollygagging,  as we liked to say of ourselves.

I still hate magnolias, their sickly sweet woundedness.
their bruises like those on my arms after falling from bikes
or my roller-skates.  So clumsy, they tut-tutted,
the old women who stayed inside.
Shuttered come mid-afternoon.

We had no fountains in our yards,
no Grecian-nosed goddesses endlessly pouring  libations.
We had buckets and hoses.
We muddied through coleus
and cabbages, snapped off the beans, stuffed them into
our pockets if we had forgotten a sack.
We  expected no laurels,
nor wanted to be the next girl to walk down
the aisle, her bodice too tight, her eyes wide with terror.

We knew our place.
We knew how to hoist a load,
lug a watering pot.
The mud squished between our stubbed toes
that could never have been Aphrodite’s.

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