We left the Ouachita Range for the Red and Sand. In between, the Delta’s black dirt and squeezebox silos and flat horizon towns refusing to rise once we reached them. We crossed the steel bridges that stitch the Mississipp bank to bank, and we breathed in all this river town dirt slowly, hoping to keep it with us long after we dipped down to Orleans before coming home.

Above us now are the clouds Tina calls slate—long gray-white and unfurling with edges blue and pink. The color comes from the light blue sky we get when our winters turns cold. Our winter garden is gone except the rosemary, sage, and parsley. The house plants we placed around a cheap radiator heater, oil filled, set at 54 and working when I talked with my neighbor, the plants Good, he said last week when I checked in, have fallen stem over stem over the clay pots with sickly green leaves.

The five gallon jugs of water we left under the granite counter have turned to blocks of ice. We use that water for washing our hands in the sink. Temp on the home gauge reads 40 degrees in, 37 out, and the face of the gauge is marred where cold broke the pixels. But the cooler we use for drinking from, a primo, did not break. The hot side tank managed to keep the cold side warm. When I get water from the spout to give the animals, the pump tries to replenish what I took from the jug underneath. It’s a block of ice, too. There’s nothing to draw up.

Tina sits down in front of vestal, loads it with the smallest pieces of wood and lights a match while I unload the car, throw the ball to the dog. Automatic, our bodies have put us back into our routines, no words needed, none exchanged, just doing what has to be done.

And we’re hungry. We had to rush back from Orleans with the cat meowing and scratching at his crate. But before we can go to town and get supper, we have to make sure the fridge works—when we checked it, popsicles in the freezer had bled out of their box. Have to bring the temperature up, make the cabin warm, then, maybe, the fridge will come on and cool and freeze. If it does, we can buy groceries for breakfast—milk and orange juice and yogurt.

I place two jugs of ice by vestal. Open a beer. And so does Tina—the ones in the fridge haven’t frozen yet. Vestal spits fire and sucks in air through the open wheels in her doors. Vestal is the queen bee of our winter. Behind her hearth, the dog pants on the rug. The cat is outside, the only one who’s away, who wants to be in the cold. And I read and Tina checks her phone, waiting for the cabin to thaw.

2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry Winner – Tina Mozelle Braziel

Tina has won the 2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry for her first full length collection of poems, Known by Salt. Tina is a beautiful writer and she has written a collection of poems beautiful and genuine. Some of the poems in Known by Salt are about our glass cabin. Here is a link to the announcement—Fresno State. Her book will come out later this year or in early 2019.

Hot Springs National Park

I want to thank Hot Springs National Park and the National Park Service for selecting Tina and me to be Artists-In-Residence. We have truly enjoyed our December residency at Hot Springs learning about the unique history of this place, hiking the different trails, spending time at the jug stations and thermal pools and bathhouses that contain the healing waters of this area. I especially want to thank the park rangers here for their welcoming of us and their generosity.

Early Snow in Alabama

We walked out with the dog, and she sniffed around like the snow might do her harm. Then the dog dove into the broom sedge beside the road to see what could happen. Black fur and brown sedge tangled. At the tree line, branches held up clump after clump of white. And we kept walking, our faces heated to a blush. When I saw you smiling, I realized I was doing the same, that this is what happens when the world you think you know reveals itself to be something more.

A Pair of Hawks

West of the cabin they keep circling, spinning wind the crows don’t like. The crows keep cawing for the hawks to stop, but already I see the pines to the south. Their green needles come through the gaps between the chestnut oak branches, their leaves brown and dry and falling off while the dogwoods’ purple-red keeps, and the late red maples, and the big hickory’s yellow. A little higher, cloud joins cloud to pass through the blue field notched over the ridge. That’s where the hawks are pushing crows to sun until the hawks are done and I have nothing left to catch.

Where the Light Through the Cloud

Catches the top of the dogwood, leaf and light turn red. We have been here for four years with the big hickory bowed at the house. Its branches lean up to hold the eaves. Two hurricanes have come through already, but for all their promises of upending, they did not. The trees have kept root with us, waited for this light in the new cool with us to make the silver leaf of the maples flip.

Red Oak

My mind’s eye resides in the crown of that tree, what crown the stars fell for and the blue indigos pinned their wings back to reach. From here it takes twenty steps of air to grab the first limb. More or less, depending on the angle the blue indigos took, and whether the sun is at the clear-skied center, or if it’s night with enough of a moon to not get lost on the way up.

My Wife Gets the Clothes Off the Line in August

Before it rains, her hands reaching above her head for the wood pins to unpinch the sky, that blue shirt, my work shirt catching in the fold of her arms.

Season of Water

A cool front has been promised, dry, a break from all this summer rain. Each afternoon as early as one the clouds fold thick into gray, begin their circling by turning the wind. Takes an hour, and often it seems the storm has passed, but it comes back and water drops. Joke is, we’re living in a rainforest now. This after a drought. Before that was flooding. What I’ve learned—best to forget calendars here. You’re better off to count your seasons by the days of water.

My daughter worked for a man who said when you build, consider the path of water first so you can keep it out of your home. So before I dig any post, place joists, attach the flashing, I imagine downpours and where the tiny rivers will turn.

The rivulets in the clay road have gotten deeper. And when the mud water comes down our walking path, it overwhelms a cabin post. I keep thinking of how to channel the water around, which means I haven’t done anything yet. And the roots of the big hickory on the west side keep showing more and more from the washing. I’ve got to cover them with dirt and grass.


When I cranked the truck three days ago, backfire. So I stopped, creaked the hood up, expecting to find the fan slung into the radiator coils, which happened to me before, a car I drove. But instead I found sticks, strips of cedar bark in a mesh, pinecones, rotted acorns atop the engine and radiator. People said rat or squirrel. A friend said it was just a beaver looking for a dry spot. The backfire was a pinecone that fell into the fan was all.

I cleaned the nest out and I’ve taken to opening all our vehicles’ hoods, making sure nothing is taking refuge, building a home.

Early this morning before the sun got out full, Tina and I walked the dog. It’s become our routine. Thermometer said 98% humidity, and by the time we got to the second clay hill our clothes were sticking. Under the power lines, which run the length of easements, the sumac and pine and sweetgum have started to return. I thought the drought had killed them when we came back from Massachusetts in November. But Alabama Power had come through and sprayed while we were gone. We did not see wildflowers this spring.

After we finished walking, we let the AC cool us. Now there is this writing. Next, building.

I did not mean to work outside so much this summer. I know how the sun and humidity can overwhelm a body, and I’m no longer fifteen working watermelon fields in Georgia. But once you’ve done that kind of work and faced the sun that way, something in you says you can still do it. When the storms come circling, the saws and drills and wood and work have to go under tarps.

For the moment clouds are breaking up white. There is a clearing of blue between. I am sure the heat will build back later in the week and moisture from the gulf will bring us rain. That is, until the next promise of dry stretches into a month and my father tells me the crops in Georgia are hurting. When I hear from him I’ll know, the season of water has ended.

And Salt

I cannot remember the day when the earth became river, but it was when Tina said, Land is the shape of water. The earth has not been the same since. The sky, too, with its cloud islands. And when chert breaks open, the paths of water there, obvious, are made anew by lifting the stone. While building a deck so we can be closer to the trees and their birds, rivers appear on my face, my arms, fall to the grass, again and again. Washed by water, I remember what you said, my love, that day you became the salt.


This writing is not all the day is. It is the fat bark off the red oak. It is the small winds Wright talked of. Even here in the Deep South in summer is a place to rest before the storms come on to wash heat and dirt from the roots. Every moment outside opens you more to the world.

At the Center of Summer

A summer will change you when you see a tree cradle the sun down to set and the closest ridge made blue with dirt and mosquitoes the day has brushed off. Life gets quiet at the center of summer. But earlier I was on the porch listening to storms. Maybe the clouds go round and leave only the wind thunder. Or maybe the rain comes through like yesterday and washes. When the sky got done with its yelling, I got back outside to working. Until the humidity overtook me and sent me back to the porch. Now I’m in this waiting chair between the sun and the trees and the blue dirt mosquitoes shaking loose the crumbling earth.

ASCA Fellowship

I want to thank the Alabama State Council on the Arts for an arts fellowship beginning this fall. Their support of my writing over the next year will help me with the last stories of a collection about Blount County titled This Ditch Walking Love.


The wind shoaled in the morning, thought I was in a river of the first blue, when that color came to be and I was, cooling, the wind shoaling our bed like water between the moon and the sun.


Branches made all black, the white sky, needles pricked out like a caterpillar’s back, their cones, stars to reach for and toss down the ridge between dogwood and the coming storm. Wind sweeps to the creek. Drops one cone in rock deep. The circle made there is the dip of the big toe in and the sun swinging planets, that old washing machine humming the creek bed and ours, the earth at its unstoppable heart.


Up top, a buzzard is playing, catches the high winds, this morning’s pale blue sky, that last line of trailing cloud. His wing of black sits in one corner. Here on earth the green trees are soaking up yesterday’s storm, all night’s soaking rain happy. We say to each other, surely the drought’s broken. We don’t say anything else, don’t hex the good we got. The cool air keeps pushing, so I open every window for the smell of earth after rain.

St. George

The mourning doves, the crows, the gulls take turn holding the island above water by circling. In this motion this way gravity can’t go straight down. This way a breeze can still push across, light is funneled to the tin roofs and branches for resting. Underneath, the wingless walk the mud roads bayside to beachside. Almost all the trees are gnarled pine, the houses pink blue brown yellow boxes on stilts stealing a good share of the lots. Sand is everywhere, makes our skin raw with grit and salt, gets into everything. Then the mourning doves make their back and forth low whistle, and the island rises a little, and light seeps into the water from here to the cars on the bridge.

Lifted Over the Woods

I’m looking for the dead trees, what our drought has taken so far. Spring now, everything either blooming or greening except the sides of some dogwoods that took on stroke when their roots couldn’t get to water. And the late blooming maples and sourwoods—I keep waiting for them to prove.

We’ve had our rains, just not enough this winter. There was flooding in places a week ago, and a night with wind so strong, I thought all the trees would come down and the ridge would be a field of splinters and needles of pine. Thunder shook the house, too. But seldom the thing you fear happens the way you expect.

It was when I drove to b town, I saw where a red oak had tipped out in a field, full-branched leafing atop the grass, the roots out of their clay. Night before, lightning turned once to sizzle blue across the skylight; I knuckled onto the covers. But the red oak in the field had nothing to hold in that air and really, the covers weren’t much, and the oak hadn’t concern for lightning or the wind that came with. It was in need of water, took its chances, dug roots to welcome the storm.


Lifted Over the Woods is from Seamus Heaney’s Glanmore Sonnets at the beginning of line seven in sonnet number four. Read that line of his and held onto it.


The cedar is getting to be a rangy green, and me, I want to go under that cloud over there, make my run up the mountain in its slow shadow, roots and rocks raising my knees. I’ll fall out on the other side like I’m supposed to with breath in the ache for the next cloud to come along.


Mud dries on the dog’s neck a sway, curl, clouding up sunflower head, ripe and river-brown across a black patch of ditch.

Driving Back

Saw the dust come up in the wheel, cloud curl down from the sky. Couldn’t hook the two together passing the tin barn, field, up mountain, up, the bull cloud running, they been gray all day and white, covering, the wind carrying. Had to get home, so much work to do.


This morning a pair of hawks battle the crows. And us, we start with firewood burning, with coffee making, bundled up, getting a sense of the treeline and the paths underneath to cut clear so we can wander before spring hides the earth.

Later is a greenhouse roof to put on—all outside things have to get done before summer when the heat and the bugs will be too much.

But yesterday, it was sun bright and cool. The buzzards came up from a tree, a whirlpool of wings, surveying for dead. This morning, hawks and crows, stopping us from doing what we thought.

A Note About Yesterday

This morning, my back is sore from pushing wheelbarrow loads of wood up a ridge. I had hoped the wood dead, ready for burning, two trees my neighbor and I had found, one tree leaning into the other, the tops of both rotted out. But the weight of wood said different—there were rows of green for holding water I could not split out with the axe. We need firewood for the rest of winter, dry or not, so I picked the vines of poison oak off the bark and wheelbarrowed uphill, slipping on leaves without falling. Once I reached the truck, I leaned down, pulled the ground air in until the ache left me and I could lift wood onto the truck bed. There is nothing like the smell of cut wood—dirt and sap split along plowing lines packed tight in the heart, like the atom at the center of the earth, at the center of a seed opened. I got home and Tina said I looked happy, but I couldn’t explain all of it then, my love, so I am writing this to you.


To look up is to see the blue where there was only cloud, is to find color in the fallen leaves on Cherty Ridge, is to catch sight of the slight wind turning. Still, clouds pig along the horizon like Robert Dana wrote and I heard him read.


Mandelstam wrote if the song is sung truly, from the whole heart, everything at last vanishes. Dana’s words have stayed with me unvanished, though they disappear at times, then return to me full of the forgetting.

In the Thaw

The shadows on the ground come from the trees, a gray black given and broken where ice was just the day before, what little ice we got from the cold. Three days of burning out rounds of wood seamed with ants while people spun tires off black slicks in the road, useless. We didn’t, stayed, worked against the plunge the wind made to carry us. Then we woke up exhausted and not gone.

My Neighbor’s Dead Tree

As I split the rounds, black ants fall out groggy, the earth shaky, not even the winged ones able to fly. Not enough warmth to the air to rise on and snow coming tomorrow. They’d eaten their way into the rings of heartwood, clung to the white seams of their passage.


I was on the roof yesterday cleaning the chimney. The sun had finally made it out and I looked west at Cherty Ridge—gray, brown, white with a row of hill pines before the dead steep. It was warm out, and I thought, winter is almost done. Oh, it will linger into April, but I was thinking of where time was a few months ago, where it would be. In between was where I stood on the roof, brushing down soot, anchored. I was the anchor or time was or the work I was doing or the sun already shifting back or even the wind you would not suspect, but it swirled me in place and the trees, too.

Cloud to Ground

This day begins with thunder above mist. Every so often a field of light flickers. One time in high school, I set fire to a shallow pit in the west pasture, had friends over, and the wind whipped so strong against us, sparks flew and flew. The sparks calmed but didn’t fall. They floated above the grass and I thought the whole field might catch. No one else worried since it wasn’t anything of their fathers’.

Winter, the sparks like dragonflies in summer where I stepped to the field’s edge and stopped, unable to cross through, not wanting to disturb the quilted flight pattern. Sparks were just pops of wood lifted, carried, but their movement was the movement of dragonflies. I’d thought it was all about having glass wings, but it had more to do with wind, its roll above grass, about finding rhythm just above gravity’s plunge.

Every so often this morning, a field of light, flicker, then thunder, where the hawk that stays close to our home now had gone the week before, shrieking after something, mist after rain, a warning I couldn’t catch.

Green Line

The pines are what hold now that the hardwoods have lost their leaves. In December the pines reappear, a second forest to pull the air, needle and weave the green line along with cedars we cherish, before the jump into blue. Where the hawk made yesterday orange-feathered, white and black checked. It went into the blue cold hot.

In our glass cabin, the doors, the floor, the rafters and the ceiling were made a cathedral of pines to live in.

The stand of pines just south have grown taller since last winter. When we go walking, we find scrubs under powerlines the drought has taken. Some of the knobby ones by the cabin are dead, too. I know them by their brown crowns and will cut them before they snap on their own and fall, will cure them for a year to make more rafters.

We cherish cedars because they can do without much water. Because insects don’t like their skin—we wish we had the skin of cedars—because the gray trunks are the rooted sky of our winter, because they fill the sky just enough to keep our home tucked back from the road into the woods.

Yet the pines are what I see most of. Always in December, their forest within the hardwood forest essential, what I had forgotten existed.


Cold rises through the floor. The red leaves hold onto the dogwood in the wind. This morning is firewood gathering, water pouring, filling enough jugs so we get through to the warming in a few days. And wrapping the outside tank in towels so the spigot won’t bust, putting on long handles knowing everyone up north would think a day like this one just fine, not a bother. Later we’ll put your aunt’s windows around the winter garden, slant them like a teepee. We’ll cradle in arms of water oak, bring the cat inside, bundle ourselves in covers your grandmother quilted. The moon is setting early in the trees.

The Tight Ache

The rains showed up like they do here in December, wave after wave and our drought broken. When it first fell, that water, I was putting blue tarps on the saws and lumber and firewood. It speckled me and the earth and I could breathe again. I had forgotten how in the drought.

William Christenberry passed right before the rains. His photographs of buildings and what comes of them over time I’ve been drawn to in part because my father has spent a life trying to preserve the shacks and stores and signs of his youth. My father was also born in the 1930s. In July, he had the old town depot moved from one field—where the depot was backed up to a pond and rotting—to the field of the highest land he owns. The moving—my daughter and I were there to see it and help—was quite a spectacle with the EMC workers in their buckets lifting up powerlines and traffic blocked from entering dirt roads and fences cut to weave that building through, get it to its new place where it frames the field as if it has always been there or having been moved around, finally has its home.

In part because there’s something in Christenberry’s work, what he was getting at about the South, I, too, am looking for. He said in an interview he didn’t have a nostalgia for the South of the past. He saw instead a poetry and poignancy in what he photographed and sculpted.

Drought Song

The big trees are dying my brother told my father and all I could think of were those South Georgia pines, roots gnarled in the earth, just a little older than my father was. Those pine branches had grown so tall, they kept their own stars, pulled the sky into place. I was down visiting, my father and I walking, telling each other what we knew.

Around Augusta, the smoke from the fires in the mountains was keeping the horizon away from the sun. Back home, my neighbor was holding on till spring to see which of his plants—all that time and money—would trick death into bloom. Another neighbor’s well went bust. But the water authority said they’ve got plenty of water for now. Water restrictions in effect. No burning, and yet the land is burning. The cows on my father’s land have been going through the bales, and not enough to last the winter. So many people have told me, they’ve not seen this, nothing like this, never this dry for this long.

So the weatherman talks about future rain like it’s god given. He’s finally got religion, the promising kind of just you wait and see. There’s a pattern flip, though not in our prayers, in the number of days of waiting—over sixty now—in the hawk winging off the powerline cause she can’t quit, and the frogs and lizards dried out in the sand.

I’m sure the weatherman will be proven true. But my father and I walked past the cotton field defoliated with no water to wash the chemicals into the dirt. All that cotton like snow never going to melt, what Bob Wills sang of, his window facing south, like what I’d seen in Massachusetts when I visited in October. So we slipped through the dust like it was the water we needed. Along the edge of the field, trying not to breathe it in too deep. All we could do.


for Dail

We were leaving Oneonta, car packed, heading from a parking lot to the highway 231 light, and from there up roads that rivered north when we heard one of our closest friends had passed, though close doesn’t put it right. But since we could not see him and because grief belonged with us now, we took him along.

To the Smokes, Ohiopyle, and Berkshires. He thought sunsets were too redundant to be adored, so we took extra time watching the sun burn down the sky. At every restaurant we said his name so the tables next to ours would hear him being called, and he would be in the silverware dropped from napkins picked up, the jokes told, received, everything and everyone that drifted in and out of place.

I ate burgers, sausage, steaks, all the foods he loved, in his honor, knowing he’d utter Hot damn! about something he really liked. Unexpected, he set hot damns where they should go with an easy breath beforehand and everyone’s laughter afterward.

I conjured what he might say of Kutztown, Mill Run, Ashfield. I called up the hoarseness of his voice at Robinson’s Point and on Sparks Lane, the Youghiogheny, the Deerfield, so he would be in my memory everywhere, so I would always hear the world through his timing. Each death comes at you differently, and his has been about the wish to reverse these rivers long enough to take them south and catch him home, coming downstairs to give his greeting.

Shiner – 2016 Zone 3 Fiction Award

I want to thank the editors at Zone 3 for selecting my story “Shiner” as the 2016 Zone 3 Fiction Award winner. The story appeared in their spring issue and can also be read online at the link above.

Off in the Distance

There were simple things to do once we got home—pour water from the tank to make sure it was clear so we could use it. Check the house for squirrels or mice that may have found a way in. Tina found tomatoes and butterbeans, basil still growing in the garden despite the drought we thought we’d left to September. November, and the number of days of no rain will soon reach fifty. Only one dogwood is a deep red down west, and the small tomatoes in the garden red—you have to look for color among the burnt brown. Meanwhile, someone has been hammering south in the distance. That sound, tight, carries thirst, rattles leaves until the wind falls back into pockets of stillness, the creek bed, ditches. Without realizing, I have followed and left my body for good.


At Robinson’s Point, the crow fishleaped to the other mountains that crossed out the horizon with yellow. I told Tina in January it was the year of yellow because I’d chosen a yellow journal to write in. Hard to believe the journal was almost done. Hard to believe everywhere we looked, the world had become this color. Then the crow peaked and rounded toward us.

A front this weekend will brush the yellow to the floor—a drought—the leaves won’t hold branch. I thought we left such weather in Alabam but things don’t leave you. Like a poet read last night at Bryant’s homestead—You can go out that way except it’s the way in.

The distance between two points is a spinning thing, though it often looks as if you’re going in a straight line. Which is the reason why at Walden Pond a few days back, the swimmers swam out and we sank our hands in so warm we knew, you could swim the water clear and clear your mind of everything except the one action it took, the one breath repeated to get across.


It was a while back when I heard the first drums and horns. I was leaving the gym and across 75 the Oneonta marching band was practicing. This was early August before school started. Then last night after a trip to Auburn to hear my wife read poems about walking sticks and rivering and housebuilding and how red clay glows peach, I was on the south porch watching our tree limbs bend from where they stood—that was their welcome home to us, their Good to see you back. This after we woke up in Auburn hours earlier, the room so dark it was hard to know the morning. I kept shutting my eyes. I missed the light of our glass cabin—it’s seldom when we need to turn on lamps in the day—and I’d forgotten what it was to live constantly under tungsten, how artificial the morning is without the sun. But that was hours ago and I was on the porch figuring, the sun diving fast through oaks and maples at a point on Cherty Ridge where the branches leafed the light before it reached us. There’s no harshness this time of year when you look into the setting sun, and I wondered how long it’d been since I was able to open my eyes in late afternoon and breathe. At the end of June, the center of summer, the sun had gone as far northwest on Cherty as could. That light blazed through the west glass wall. So it had to be sometime April, early April, when the sun was at the same point on Cherty as now. I kept narrowing time’s movement by the different weather—April, wet, cool, the dogwoods budding; September, windy, parched, the sun flat—then I heard gunshots. Hunters. They’d driven up after work to figure the land before deer season. Once they stopped, I heard drums I thought was their echo. But the sound carried from where the Mustangs play football Friday nights in Pinson Valley down our ridge. All through Pinson Valley are games and marching bands on Fridays and I thought of James Wright’s poem about the beginning of August in Martins Ferry, the suicidal bodies on the football field, the women, pullets, dying for love and the gray faced men and their furnaces. How easily that place carried here with the drums quelling the dry-hot, calling the cooler air to us. Forget time. I had figured other things that afternoon I cannot remember to write. But they’ll circle back from where I lost them until I see them new.

On a Map

If you go to the US Drought Monitor, Alabama, the map says a section of our county is abnormally dry and the other half in a moderate drought. After all that August rain, the air has parched. High hot days, white clouds like cotton in your throat, then cooler nights as the sun prepares us for winter. Thirst stays with you. Wakes you up in your sleep. Becomes its own kind of fever that the trees know, especially poplars turning yellow-brown. They weren’t made for withstanding upper ridges. You’ll find poplar color in flashlight dust, and pollen from ragweed caught in ridge seams floating around—there’s no place to settle, not even in stars. All of September has been like this.

Three Years In

I know it by the growth in the trees, especially the maples that I left standing. And I know it by the branches of the hickory and red oak that carry the clothesline. The wrap of the strings around the bark has settled in. The branches have overlapped. Where I cut trees for firewood for a view of Cherty Ridge, they’ve come back with scuppernongs and briars to hold the dirt on our hill. So many toads this year I have to be careful where I walk at night, and all day, on the way to the red feeder, the hummingbirds clip our ears. We’re as familiar to them as grass. We might as well be wood. I know it by the swallowtails sitting on the downed purple plums when the afternoon gets cool. Their wings beat slow and black. And I know it in the mornings when Tina and I sit on the porch to whisper our stories and poems so we can tune them. All around the house and through it is that whispering. And the wind carrying. And the other thing . . . life is just starting. Three years in and the world here is new and beautiful.

Common Other

We took the clothes in off the line over three days. A good rain got them once, then small sprinkles that didn’t do much. The broom sage sprouted, announcing autumn. I saw them when I was slinging the grasses around the garden, their stalks appearing where the other wildflowers had wired up to the sun and died. All of this since April in a small patch in front of the church-iron fence a man from Pitts welded into a gate for us.

I promise myself every spring, I’ll invent names for the blooms. I could use the book a friend loaned me, but I want to give them something else, a mark that marks them as ours when Tina and I go walking, taking the dog up the road. Like the pine-likes that’ll show up soon, so many, you’d think slash and shortleaf had taken over the field under the Alabama electric lines, but they’re not saplings at all. They’re pine-likes, a weed gone by winter. Pretenders. Who or what were they trying to fool?

The broom sage or sedge is green and purple stalked. It will turn brown in a month, sweep the colder wind to us. Small cherries sit just above their leaves jewel-like. Plums fall purple-red in the walkway, get mashed. The hydrangeas have kept busy rusting out their edges. And the dogwood leaves’ turn to pale yellow, like some blight, will turn orange-red. Drupe pokers of the sumac, red. The sourwood leaves—some of them red, too—are speckling black, a stain left by the storms.

I used to think the turning happened in August because of drought, and sometimes that is the reason for a turn. But we’ve had plenty of water. Enough to reverse the drought in July. Even with July’s heat broken, the gulf heat drifts up to us and languishes. The sun has changed course, is heading back across Cherty Ridge to catch December. We’re on that line now, summer pretenders.


Sometimes it is the shadow on the ground, quick, half-branched. A buzzard is up there. So I wait for the other shadow, its companion to come next, before I look up to the sky and try to find them, sweeping. It all depends on the sun, the angle of wing to light, and if the companion is along. Sometimes after the half-branch floats past the trunk of the red oak, nothing. Sometimes the sky black with buzzards.


I spent all day craving salt until a storm came up, and I wondered if lightning strikes would come across Cherty Ridge like bears in an argument, which happened a few days ago, another storm, two bears clawing up earth and sky until so exhausted, they disappeared. Always bears have marked the stars from the stoop where I’ve watched them, but in that lightning I saw bears, too. It’s like the dirt under the glass face of my watch. I spent the morning working in the clay loam looking for salt to give me strength, but my sweat was only water and each time I stopped to let it drip away, the seconds hand appeared to tick more slowly, less visible from where the dirt got under. Nothing is sealed in—not the face of the watch. Nothing is sealed out—not the sky. Where the grit and electricity come across one world seeps into another, bends into bear, becomes imperfect time.


It’s all sweat digging holes in the ground for a deck, our soil a clay loam for about three feet, then a fourth foot of broken-rock to chip at for hours. I can’t work past eleven and before then I’m on breaks, hurrying inside to the AC and fridge. I’m soaked, soaked in sweat that burned my eyes when I first started digging. Now the salt in me is gone. I tell myself, I won’t survive the apocalypse, and try to think of ice. I say the words cool water, try to think of winter. But my hands and wrists are numb from spearing rock bars and posthole diggers, numb as dead handle-wood and steel. I’m more body than mind. I want to believe in, Just keep going, but it’s getting harder to tell that lie.

Winter Story

I wish I could give you the shape of weather here. How stars at night get closer to the earth, almost as bright as the headlights coming down the hill and just as wavy, flickering. Or this morning with the cold sharp on my ears, and the new kitten running around digging nails into the quilts deep enough to catch my foot and make me flinch. My foot was some fish to him, a motion to pounce on and stop. But I couldn’t sleep after and came downstairs to restart the fire in vestal, the sunlight starting above the trees. For a moment, and I almost missed it, the sky was a lavender bent, making the trunks of oak birch-white. How a tree can change into another tree is something I hadn’t known before.

Winter for us is firewood and being grateful for the woodstove doing what it can with glass-wood walls that have no insulation. And every one of these days is a ritual of coffee and feeding the fire and finding drafts in the walls to patch. But I guess if I could put my hands on the weather, it would be what happened yesterday afternoon.

I washed my hands outside under the rain barrel, and as I returned to the cabin, the wind froze my fingers. I grabbed sawdust near the woodpile to absorb the water and came inside to get warm and the sawdust fell, a dusting. It felt like flakes of my own skin falling away dead, but it was water my skin had absorbed and the sawdust had taken, and the simple movement of my hands closing the door, then placed above the stove, hot air shooting up, that sawdust full of what the big storms released the day before yesterday stinging on the iron.


I want to thank the editors of the journal Zone 3 for publishing my story “Shiner” in their Spring 2016 issue. It’s one of the selections you can read online, and to purchase the full issue, follow this link. “Shiner” is about a son trying to figure out what to do after his mother swims out and disappears. It’s part of a collection of stories I’m working on called This Ditch Walking Love.

The Window Between

I want to thank the editors of Fiction Southeast for publishing my essay, “The Window Between,” as part of the Corner Post Series. The essay talks about the time between writing projects, when you recharge and the world around you becomes louder.

The Trees Want Water

A week ago, middle of night, when the armadillos stopped scratching, I heard a ping in the watering can outside. It wasn’t raining and I thought, it was the tank we have, the tank was dripping from the spigot into the can, but in the morning, the pinging had stopped and the watering can wasn’t under the spigot. Dew, that’s what it was I told myself and forgot about it. Until yesterday when I went to water the small garden and was filling the can from the rain barrel and something, a clump, was in the bottom. I dipped it out with my hand swift and threw it on the ground. The skin of a mouse and down in the water swirling bits of fur.

Years ago I’d come home near the end of winter from college, and I was out at the shack my father had built for me to live in. It had become a storage space for my father’s furniture, my writings, for my best friend’s books and drawings he could no longer carry. On the bar was a coke bottle and down at the bottom in the last bit of black spit and coke, a mouse. Somehow the mouse had managed to climb up the green glass and get inside, become matted bone.

I cannot remember if it had been a dry winter in south Georgia. We’ve had rain enough in Alabam this spring, though it is now getting dry. But when I saw the mouse skin on the ground and the fur, all I could think was, how quickly we are without water. It was not those words—I can write it here, but yesterday, all I had was the feeling in the throat of thirst. And not disgust for picking up something dead. Why should we be disgusted by the dead? Or how something that wanted to survive got there? It was thirst and its insistence.

North Current South

The wind through the trees is the river. We slept in the bed, the windows open. All night we dreamed of water rushing one ear louder than the other. Starlit, moon-glowed, setting us in the green leaves turning.


You will not get this day again, blackberry winter, the hawk flying over. In February, the junipers were spring-born. Now the cedar-apple rust galls have turned orange. I thought the galls, hanging from the ends of branches, were the seeds of cedars. I thought the hawk would come down eventually. The wind had to stop holding up its wings. But lost in my measuring was the thing-real.


There are more taken-down utility poles at Alabama Power. And my neighbor’s building a house, this one for his son. The scraps of wood they can’t use, I can. So I get up. I make the rounds, checking for a call, looking for wood. These have become salvaging days, a kind of divining, like begging a story from old words, figuring out how to make use of the discarded.

Meanwhile, the carpenter bees cut rounds in the eaves. I sit on the stoop to write and sawdust sifts over these words. These very ones. Sawdust is a little bit heavier than pollen. I don’t like carpenter bees chewing up the house wood, but I understand their want for a home. The only thing to stop them is if their body fails.

When I get to Alabama Power, I cut one pole 15 feet. Length enough to bury 4 and have the rest bear the corner of a deck, what I’ve built over and over—the motions of it, the thoughts of it—but not the real. The real is picking up the pole no one wants because it’s too gaffed from workers climbing to the transformer and lines. Because it’s ancient.

And yet, the pole will outlast me, preserved in better chemicals. I just have to get it in the truck, which takes a lot of summoning, hands on hips figuring, walking around delaying because the dead weight is always more than I can reason. At some point, I have to lift.