Americana Art astronomy beauty belief cemeteries childhood civility comfort communication

Blood Relations

Kentucky thoroughbred

wild flower covered

rose wreathed

bluegrass hills

day lilies praying to face the sun

white horse fences on Derby Day

mint julep

drinking celebrities

wearing too much makeup and cloying colognes

spectator hats

pastel bow ties, open toed

espadrille intentions painted perfectly

round pen prancing

such breeding,

& the horses are pedigreed too.

The world of Man O’ War and

My uncle,

Etheridge Spaw,

my family’s last great horseman

elder statesman

until we got a jockey and horsewoman

in my niece, a true princess.

Etheridge had a voice like thunder

booming across a valley

melodic, bellicose, bass baritone

a cowboy hat the size of god

and a cherry wood pipe to match

stories of blood relations

unfurling in his pipe smoke


prince of our family

your memory I cherish

thoughts of you, on a faraway farm

just this side of a Kentucky heaven.

Bless and keep us through the days to come, uncle,

and thank you, kindly.

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a leaf that lingered brown

i blame robert frost
his cold methodology
his need to fill disused graveyards with
death’s dazzling white snow glamour
a slow creep crystalline across
an already shattered windshield

i blame robert frost
as i cannot blame
my father
my friend
or an absent god
for them forgetting
they had promises to keep

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Liturgy of the Hours

every night you were away

i sought you out

through blackberry bramble ether

from weeping constellations above dixmyth avenue

to jessamine county barns filled with horse hay

perpetually wrapping blue ribbon around my finger

whispering vespers

my plea to the particles of the universe

to hold you together

to bring you back from oblivion

as you had done for me

you are my chosen family

inextricably part

of my thunderous heart

to which you will always hold the latchkey

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Uncle Etheridge

my Uncle Etheridge
was grace personified
a Kentucky horseman
of noble heart

my grandmother’s dear brother
who frequently had
a formidable pipe
clenched between his teeth
and from him plumed
rich histories in tobacco smoke

finely crafted stories
commanding our young attention

dignified in a way few men are
what I loved most about him
was his deep bass voice
a black velvet tide
rolling toward you
a gentle thunder
over a Bluegrass prairie

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this house has a history


i put on some water for tea

then decided to mop the floors

of our new little nest

before the furniture gets carried in

before the rest of our lives happen

Murphy’s Oil Soap

water and sunshine into a bucket

carried through the echoing emptiness

of what will be

over original hardwood

placed there in 1941

i love to clean

the ritual of it

i write in my thoughts as i work

images painting themselves

into spaces around my gentle humming

spreading wet across the grain

seeing hands that mopped this floor

before me

wives husbands

fathers mothers

lovers and

put-upon teenagers

oh this house

has a history

built the year

the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor

it’s all still there

nailed down memories

layers of time entombed in wax

someone stood in that living room and heard

we dropped the bomb

we landed at Normandy

of a flag raised in Iwo-Jima

Kennedy was dead

Vietnam was a lost cause only good

for folded flags being handed to weeping mothers

Nixon was a crook

Reagan and John Lennon had been shot

the Berlin wall had fallen

i heard first steps

crying babies

crying widows

joyous laughter

say cheese

wine glasses clinking together

realizing with a smile

this floor is mine

the foundation of a family

and i will love it


the teapot

began to whistle






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blow on it

we don’t need to talk
we speak to each other
in the steam rising from
our coffee cups


80 years

doesn’t seem like much to ask

of the broad expanse of time

80 years

that’s all i need

to make sure

my sons are taken care of

for the remainder of their lives

what is my mothering heart to do


i won’t get it

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Mabel Spaw Bates

Mabel Spaw Bates


I have dreamed about you

every night this week.

I would like to think you are visiting me

from the great beyond.

We’re in your house and

I can hear your voice,

I can smell your skin,

I can hear you laugh,

I can hear you sigh.

I can watch you smooth the table cloth

down with your hands

and wash the kitchen counter.

We watch Gone With the Wind together,

then have tea.

We look through an old Sears catalog,

we sort your quilt pieces,

we string buttons.

After we visit the Halls Gap Overlook,

we end the night at The Dairy Freeze.

I love you immeasurably.

The older I get,

the more I miss you.

Your absence is enough

to fill the world,

Mabel Spaw Bates.


Rest In Peace

sociology writing

baby book

my son had

his first kiss today

and all i could think was

this is the first time

there is no page

upon which to enter this first


his baby book

Americana death family history Kentucky local color poetry Southern Gothic

spinster sisters

when i was a little girl

allowed to roam

through the backrooms of

the house shared by my great aunts


spinster sisters

jo ann and mary alys

whose  Bates brothers all passed before

i didn’t mind the obligatory visits

imposed by my mother and sister so much


finding photographs of glory faded

antique wash basins and ceramic kittens

delicate baubles in satin boxes

fine dresses who had given up on finding love

bobby pins on china saucers atop

a vanity avoided because no one wanted to see

what it had to show


until i was five i thought jo ann

was a man

an old farmer in mens clothes

who smoked constantly

cut her hair short

and squatted like our indian ancestors

talking of her land

loyals dogs

sturdy tractors

whose barn had burned

tidbits you orta know

a lesbian of a time one didn’t acknowledge

such things

baptist blasphemy running through

her country bones


mary alys

the once beautiful bride

whose wealthy husband cecil had died

leaving her childless


though she seemed content

to remain married to his ghost

so feminine she was

pin curls

perfectly filed long

nicotine yellow nails

too many rings

a  forked tongued

wicked gossip

oral histories

slim pointy nose

judging everyone whilst wearing

pink polyester and

knee high panty hose


two women were never more different

yet to me

they were symbiotic halves

of a singular tale of  family woe


jo ann on her side of the sitting room

reading the paper

and mary alys

applying ponds cold cream to her face

and lotion to her transparent

blue veined soft hands

claiming she intended to make

a pretty corpse


jo ann went first

ate up with cancer

mary alys died later

of meaness

i suppose