Featured Poet: Marianne Worthington

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.