Inarticulate

Hensley Settlement

A cabin at the Hensley Settlement

The southern Appalachians hold a special place in my heart.  A few years ago I finally had the chance to visit the Hensley Settlement, within Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  This community on Brush Mountain, established in 1904, remained home to two extended families until 1951.   It is remote, accessible only by an eight-mile hike or a guided tour via a small park service van.  Once on the mountain a visitor can look across the way, or out of a cabin window, and see a landscape completely devoid of modern intrusions.

The ranger providing the tour on the day I visited did a superb job of bringing the settlement to life in our imaginations.  I found one offhand comment particularly intriguing, though.  After showing us the trap door to an interior root cellar, she said, “The man who built this cabin must have loved his wife.  He didn’t want her to have to go outside to fetch potatoes in the winter.”

In my motel room that night, I thought about her remark.  How else might someone in this time and place have demonstrated their feelings?  (Authors think about such things a lot, since “show, don’t tell” is hammered into our brains at every workshop and critique session.)

I began scribbling.  The result was the following poem.

Inarticulate, 1908

He never said he loved her,
but he dug a ‘tater hole by the hearth
so she wouldn’t have to go outside.
He split extra rails, and stuffed hay in the deep fence angles
to catch snow before it drifted across her path
when she fetched eggs in bitter dawns.
He ordered a cookstove at the valley store
and groaned it up the mountain
with a stout sled and team of oxen,
and he built a fire at four each morning
so the kitchen was warm when she started breakfast.

She rarely met his gaze,
but she made twelve-layer apple stack cakes
because his eyes crinkled at the corners when he ate them.
She scrubbed sand into wide popple boards
with a break-back broom so the floor
stretched smooth white beneath his boots.
She chopped her own kindling so he’d have time
to play his fiddle on summer evenings.
She saved flour sacks’ shiny blue liners
and papered the wall by his pillow
so the firelight glowed pretty as he drifted to sleep.

They never rose above their raisin’ with fancy talk,
just pondered the night-dazzled skies and knew
she had captured the stars in her apron,
he the moon in his sickle-scarred hands.

(Originally published in Appalachian Heritage)

Tags: ,

6 Responses to “Inarticulate”

  1. sharonaddy Says:

    Hi Kathleen! I’m so glad I found you on facebook and learned about your blog. love the poem. It made me want to be with the couple and see their love and appreciation in the way they related when they were working on something together. Their children, if they had any, must have felt wonderfully secure and loved.

  2. Mary Trimble Says:

    Kathleen, ongratulations on getting your blog started. I love the picture of you at the heritage site. Your piece is very interesting, suggesting ways to think of showing love.

  3. Cynthia Becker Says:

    Kathleen,
    You have captured the heart of Appalachia in this poem. And, isn’t it often the case that one little offhand comment, one phrase, can inspire us to deeper exploration in writing.

    I read your post about your “Facing Forward” poem this morning and then cruised back through your blog. Lovely work.

  4. Meg Says:

    What a wonderful poem. It sort of reminds me of my parents (who lived in a vastly different context).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: