The first time I met Marianne Worthington, we were both wearing t-shirts with an image of Dolly Parton stamped on the front. That’s how I knew we were going to be friends. Marianne’s work is so intimate, so personal that sometimes you feel you’ve accidentally overheard a private conversation while reading her poetry. In a single turn of phrase, she can express both wry wit and devastating beauty. Marianne closely examines the everyday with an eye toward capturing its wonder. Her sharp eye, sense of humor, and vulnerability make her poems satisfyingly surprising.
Change Seven is honored to feature her work.
Gospel Song When the Cooper’s hawk slammed into the corner wall I thought the neighbor boys had thrown a baseball at the house. In my rush to chase down those kids I nearly missed his ringed tail, his speckled breast that looked for all the world like a designer cable-knit sweater, how he looked for all the world like he was just tucked down for a nap, his neck bent just so. Every day since, I’ve yearned to find a wonder in my yard, a wish for personal salvation. Each morning my friend remembers a hymn to sing aloud while she waits for the coffee to piss into her cup. Keurig hymns, she calls them. If gospel songs are all that remain of my childhood dogma, can I still be saved, even if the creeds still slink around after me sometimes? I don’t know. Isn’t dread now marking my dark path that leads to the forest where I bury the hawk? The woods at the edge of my yard shelter rowdy birds who like to fight and holler, their chatter like gunfire. Even the tiny wren so fierce in her competitions, built and rejected three nests in my garage: one in a snow boot, one in the tool box, one behind the paint cans. I stay out of her way and try to ignore the blue-tailed skinks who colonize the cracks along the driveway. Vocal School My grandmother never shuts up even though her declarations are lost to the ether so long ago. She had a hitch and quaver in her chatter like a flickering light. Once in my father’s last confusions he tried to tell me a story about a cousin who had done something funny but couldn’t remember the punchline. He gave up, his voice a tremble: I can’t recall. You’ll have to get Pearl to tell it. I knew then he was lost although he recalled his dead mother’s name and held to the filament of her voice until his end. Often I dream her talking in the rooms of her roomy house. Pearl paring Red Delicious apples in the kitchen and speaking of recitations they had to give in school. One time, her classmate was unprepared for his turn but stood up anyway to try and make his sentence: Earl Hunt were tall and gangly, he said. The unfitting verb made her laugh. Then she was sorry, her voice switching dim. That boy got the belt and sent to stand in the corner. I turn my face to the wall like that boy in a cold schoolroom in east Tennessee. I recite the iridescence of her name in the dark, willing the pitch of her voice to channel my dreams. Let Me Help You Get Your Shit Together People ask about her, but don’t really want the nitty-gritty because we have to talk about guts diseased and rotting. Slither and slide. We have to talk shit. The words coiled and warped around us when the surgeon said total abdominal colectomy, said, rectum, anal canal, said, ileostomy. Wiggle and squirm. My daughter looks like the little girl she was once when she wakes after surgery, says Mommy, I didn’t die. But maybe we did die a little, maybe slivers of us were entangled with those ruined bowels. Writhe and slip. The ileum pulled through a hollow in the body looks like the mouth of a rose, puckering and red. You have a pretty stoma, the nurse says. (I have to make myself look.) We negotiate with flanges and seals. dermatitis, blisters, ooze Waste pouches filled are the color of oil and warm like a hot water bottle, gurgling against her tender belly.
Gravity Sonnet Drowsing, I hear her yipping dream, feel her climbing my hip through rhythmic breaths. She is my squirrel dog who can’t hunt, fretful and brain-hurt from seizures I ease with Valium and Phenobarbital. The vet told me mountain men hunting bear would send in their little feists like her to worry the bear so they could come in with their big dogs for the kill. Here each night her deep sleep is what keeps the mauling away. When the house is still and receptive to ghosts, she burrows in blankets, stretches out long, syncs with the night’s measure and pulls with the moon, a washing over our sleep.
Marianne Worthington is co-founder and poetry editor of Still: The Journal, an online literary magazine publishing Appalachian literary, visual, and musical artists since 2009. Her work has appeared in Oxford American, CALYX, Grist, and Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance, among other places. She is co-editor of Piano in a Sycamore: Writing Lessons from the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop and author of a poetry chapbook. She lives, writes, and teaches in southeast Kentucky.