The Forage House by Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor reads four poems from her debut collection, The Forage House, published in August by Red Hen Press.

Big Granny

When they found Emeline, a nail
held her sack dress together

at the neck. She lived by gathering herbs
for curing leather, lived off land

her people held since they took it from the Cherokee,
quilted mountainsides in Appalachia

where they hewed walnut into rocking chairs
and sang the stony country’s blessings be

and ballads carried in their ears from Scotland.
From my grandmother, her granddaughter,

I have one word in her dialect: stime.
Long-ah, half-rhyme with steam, its meaning: not enough.

As, there’s nary stime of tea nor sugar nar.

In iron light, in the mountain graveyard
her clan’s settler stones grow up with moss

thick as harmonies in shape-note tune.
In those woods, a shadowy foundation:

They took apart her house to save the boards.

Official History

You work as a journalist, pursuing legends

of other people. It is October; gold leaves fall
before your birthday.  Little mysteries

swirl with them, with you, a Tess—
hunting out a dented spoon or crest,

a half disguise by which to know yourself.
    In Boston or Brooklyn

you carry some rune, afraid of a lover,
dreading the war.

Your friends barter carbon, prepare for pandemics.
In airports you watch tarmacs

flicker through your reflection.
You leave versions of selves in the various cities.

Misplace your doppelgängers.
Little Americas, discarded paperbacks:

O slaveholder & O bastard son.
O blurred stone & out-of-wedlock woman.

Reading Walden in the Air

Somewhere above Colorado, the Rockies spread like ozalids, like blueprints,
last proofs of an old-style book. Thoreau listens to the train at night,

traveling with it in mind as our stewardess arrives with pretzels.
He has measured ice breaking, is watching skitterbugs

cross the pond’s surface like aleph-bets. The Civil War has not happened yet
but brews beyond him as the seat belt light goes off.

We are free to peruse the cabin. I order tomato juice. He calls a mosquito a siren.
He ignores his Homer. Criticizes Irish laborers. Writes down the price of beans.

Deliberate puns on the Latin liber, but he claims to read little. Still
he explains how knowledge leans westward, also how knowledge is conquest.

Below, tracks mark salt flats, ruts climb the Sierra. The wing floats.
By the time I reach Donner Pass, see smoke above Yosemite,

more people visit his cottage: The woman next to me snores amiably.

Virginia Pars

At first among certain shadows
you felt forbidden to ask whose they were.

So little to inherit: family tree, tarnished pride.
A patrician lilt to certain vowels.

Real money lost, tale crocheted
in Brockenborough doilies.

Still sad alcoholic ghosts came stalking.
Unsolved, always thinking white or colored,

they slunk by, rank as shame.
Haunted by remains

somehow you were and were not
the Confederate soldiers in your grandmother’s nook.

You came
in ripped jeans from California and tasted

their seed, their curd, their underworld of 80 proof
or no proof, a difficult nut, cracked but rotten.

Known unknowns, unknown knowns
lost/not lost like the tobacco barns

on the road South, mud-daubed life
that crawled under your skin

to inhabit ensnare become partway your own.
Ghost snippets, Daddy listening

as Scotch glasses clinked, Granddaddy
killing possums with Lewis the colored man—

You felt: This/Not this. Self/Other.
You still wanted for them to explain

their America, their prodigal
half-remembered, always present pain.

Impossible to ask. Don’t speak of race.
The record’s scratched. I don’t recall. I never knew.

Anyone who’d tell you’s dead. And: No one would tell you.


Reprinted from The Forage House with permission by Red Hen Press. Copyright © 2013 by Tess Taylor.