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.

Such a story she told me,
already beyond the listening age,
ready to walk by myself to the river
and dream I was a rainbow trout

rippling.  Ripplefish, I call them.
ridding the depths of all danger,
for how could such shimmering signify
threat to me, a girl whose hair shimmered

as keenly as scales catching light,
so my kin told me, stroking my rivulets.
Silky, so silky they murmured.
She told me the river sought seawater,

briny as  juice I drank from the kraut vessel.
I listened hard to the shell by her bed,
deep inside it the call of the ocean,
she told me, though I suspect mere

emptiness lives at the heart of it.
Inside such emptiness creatures unheard
of lived, men-fish and women-fish
she said, but none could live here

in these valleys.  No river could hold them.
They  needed the seabed on which to sleep,
the white surf to ride upon, seeking
the land where a merman could sing such

a lovesong as no woman
ever could turn from,  nor from his
body that glimmered, his muscles
rippling like the trout in our rivers.

Only the comeliest woman would he choose
to bed, her glimmering hair in his hands
every night, her warm flesh against
his cold.  How they entwined I longed

to imagine, how easily they swam between
sheets, she breathing into his salty neck
words he had no need to understand,
his silence the vessel in which they swam.