Doris is a master at using the fewest words to paint the most detailed image. I often describe her poetry as Americana, as the topics she often chooses reflect a time when life was simpler, though her poems are not simple. Without sentimentality she offers her readers a view of her rural South-along dusty roads and down dark rivers, inside old schoolhouses and on family farmsteads. With a dry wit and keen observation, she introduces us to the people who eke out a living by the hard work of their hands, and despite the lack of outward affection do love each other.
And despite her mastery of the short verse, I somehow picked some of her longest poems to share!
From her collection, Searching for Maypops, published by Finishing Line Press, posted with the poet’s permission.
Fishing with Papa
The best fish hide under branches
draped over the edge of the river,
bream and redbreast cloister
in rotting stump holes, cluster of roots.
Our boat slips smoothly under the overhang,
guiding paddle scarcely ripples the water.
“Don’t look up. Bend down,” he says, pauses.
“There’s a snake on the limb over your head.”
I say nothing, obey.
We ease back into the river,
avoid weed beds, aim toward open water.
Another snake, open mouth
skimming the black water as if seining,
swims directly toward us.
“Sit still.” I watch motionless, see it swerve,
cross in front of the bow.
Under another green canopy an isolated pool
teems with sunfish. We bend low
to glide under branches, step out
in grey muck rising through our toes.
We catch seven before we discover nearby
a giant snapping turtle, agitated legs and head
defending, threatening, “Get back in the boat,”
he says and breaks a think stick, offers
the turtle a new enemy. Reflexive
metallic jaws clamp down, hang on
though tough, wrinkled neck stretches
mightily against being dragged.
It cannot know to let go.
Papa twists the weapon like a turnscrew,
until the turtle lies back.
“Some people use them for stew.”
Passing it Down
Great grandmother Eleanor
watched her brothers leave for war
learned to bridle the mule, plow
a straight furrow, cook at the hearth
expect no affection.
Married with little ones,
kept each baby close,
until a new one took its place.
Grandma Lucy, the oldest,
held her first-born, Ruth,
kept her clean and fed
but gave no caresses after weaning.
Trained her to bring in kindling,
tend the younger ones.
Ruth’s mother never kissed her,
and Ruth never kisses me.
Betsy her dimples.
before a mirror
contorting my face
into artificial smiles.
them in unwanted
My apologies, Doris and I didn’t connect on her first poem or the poet she’d like to sip tea with. I’ll post her answers at a later date.