Her Messengers

Kathryn Stripling Byer Click to

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.

Now that fields have been stubbled,
roadsides hacked into winter submission,
mountainside blasted to rubble for high rise and parking lot,
I hear them trawling the forest for migrating warblers,
mobbing the trespassing hawks.

When my neighbor downhill aims
his gun at the fake human head in his backyard,
they clamor in locust trees, cheering him,
round after round of ovations at each bulls-eye.
Dogs howl. The bare ridges resonate.  Poor

mourning doves.  I hear you whimper
as evening falls.  I used to relish your song.
Your silent lament as you lay on my plate,
threat of black shot in each bite of breast,
but tonight I am craving a foul soup

in which boils the entrails of vestigial warnings:
Waste Not       Want not       What you cannot
have.  Thus I wander the aisles of another night’s
dark discount offerings, knowing too well
why the doves whimper, a murder of crows caws

me forth to dance inside her circle of skulls,
her voice pecking holes in my earlobes
through which she draws, feather by black
feather, tokens she’s lifted from leaf-rot,
their quills dipped in blood.