Featured Poet: Melissa Helton

I’ve been reading the work of Kentucky poet Melissa Helton for years in excellent
journals like Still: The Journal and Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, so I was delighted
to find a submission from her in our in-box. One of the things I love best about Helton’s
work is that I never know what to expect, and the poems featured in this issue are a
perfect example of this. In these three poems, Helton uses three different forms, three
different voices and three different tones. They could even be mistaken for the work of
three different poets, except they share Helton’s unmistakable wonder at the word and
the world, her versatility and precision and inventiveness.

Every time I’ve re-read these poems, I’ve discovered something new. They unfold line
by line, surprising me again and again. I’m pleased to feature them here.

~Doug Van Gundy

"Cento: Clear Cut"
                                                         lines from Hans Børli

Try, just try
ten thousand plodding steps
deep down to the blue river-pool,
and clean the soot from the lamp.

The sky has in fact gone on holiday
over life’s white ash—
the moss in the woods 
slept far from the trees.

The veins lie just below the skin
of autumn hearts,
drag my life after me with
ultramarine, cinnabar, ochre, and gold.

The far-stretched naval cord,
the way a child owns its mother—
for voices bare as iron 
it’s not easy to keep life in.

I say this:
the pine-pitch fire is the symbol
of forgetfulness,
the warmth beneath the foot of a bird.
"Found: Craigslist Missed Connections: Eastern Kentucky"

I miss you M. M.. I miss your arms, your kisses, 
your smile. I can’t get over you Matthew.

I’m a Bottom Queer looking 
for some top guys for hot fun.

Bill$! We all know they drive us crazy. Any ladies or couples willing 
to have some fun could have theirs paid today! 
Reply with a pic and description.

Looking for a trail hikin buddy.

Anyone else on here seen Big Richard? I just moved back 
to the area and been trying to track him down.

You have “Country Boy” tattooed across 
your shoulders, a bear tattoo on your left arm, and you used to drive 
a red Dodge pickup. Do you know who I am? 
Will you respond?
"Alternate Names for Poets"
        -after Danez Smith

1. scavengers
2. pencil clutchers
3. the ones who cannot help but press a carcass between pages
4. those who thread talismans
5. dimension jumpers
6. those who will stroke your eyelids while you sleep
7. patriots
8. naked dancers
9. those who watch naked dancers with a fistful of dollars and an ache in their core
10. chauffeurs to the potluck
11. world alchemists
12. word butchers
13. madmen standing on a corner, shouting at the rain
14. those who will eat paint to hear what yellow has to say
15. your favorite dope dealer
16. tired
17. the dark, hot attic

Melissa Helton lives, teaches, writes, and raises a family in southeast Kentucky. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Shenandoah, Still: The Journal, Appalachian Review, and more. Her chapbooks include Inertia: A Study (Finishing Line Press, 2016) and Forward Through the Interval (Workhorse, 2021).