Monday, February 11, 2008
Robert W. Kimsey, a retired Technical Writer/Illustrator lives in the north Georgia mountains where he writes. He is a member of the Kentucky Poetry Society, the Blue Ridge Poets and Writers, and the North Carolina Writers' Network West. His chapbook, Paths From the Shawnee Spring, was published in 2005. In 2007, he led a workshop at the Blue Ridge Writer's Conference. Robert was also a participant at the Georgia Literary Festival that same year. His poems have won numerous awards. When he isn't writing poetry, Robert volunteers to teach poetry to middle and high school students in local schools. His poetry has a deep sense of place, his Kentucky landscape, and the characters he shares with deep insight, stay with me long after I close the book. The following are a few of my favorite Robert Kimsey poems.
Sitting on the loading dock,
some damn fool would always say
something to get him started.
A word or phrase, a headline or jab
would send him down that road.
It was never those of us
who had been in the service.
When it started we’d look away,
down at our feet,
zone out to another place.
His face would go gray, he’d shake
and look across the years and
even in January the sweat
would drip from his nose
along with the tears.
And he’d tell the story again.
You could almost see him in that foxhole,
back in France, fighting for his breath.
The German tank above him,
his guys down the road firing everything
they had at it and him screaming
every time the tank shelled their position.
The dirt in his mouth,
the smell of gunpowder and urine all around.
All day buried until the tank moved off
and his pals came and dug him out.
It always ended the same,
him wiping the tears on his sleeve,
embarrassed, gathering his lunch box,
limping back to the storeroom.
The damn fools who started it all
headed back to work, laughing and giggling.
Those of us who avoided crowds,
always faced the door,
flinched at loud noises,
just sat there
struggling for breath.
Riding Shanks Mare
We never worried about miles.
Two miles, four miles, any miles.
We rode shanks mare more times as not,
and along the way visited with the porch
rockers, the fence leaners, the hat wavers.
Brogans or bare feet told the season.
If we had to go, we just up and started out.
Sometimes we’d catch a ride with someone
going our way, and if we was lucky we’d meet
them coming back, and they’d drop us at the mailbox.
If we wasn’t having a lucky day
we’d have to hold our pokes hard against our coat
so they didn’t blow off the bridge and into the river.
I always feared I’d slip on the ice,
slide right off that bridge.
Some days we didn’t have the toll,
then we had to go another way.
Daddy always said they ought to be horse whipped
for charging a body to walk a bridge.
How many of us crossed the Ohio for jobs and education,
ate in diners and beer joints while searching for our
own people; making little Kentucky communities
wherever we could? Always living in
West End something,
How many of us sat and told stories about home after
working double shifts at the shoe factories, or sweated
on assembly lines; used our last dollars for gas so we
could spend a few hours smelling honeysuckle and
visiting around the Sunday table,
before heading back north?
How many of us died in coal mines or driving
gravel trucks down snake-back roads so we could
hang onto a small piece of sacred mountain land
that our kin had fought to keep, after riding flat boats
down a river into the unknown?
How many of us would push the dirt off our faces,
stand up out of our graves, put on our boots and
do it all over again?
All of us who call ourselves Kentuckians would.