V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




I.    Whistling Arch
        (Arch in Formation)

In high winds air rushing through the low opening whines, giving the arch its name. This whine is something that happens very rarely. 
                    —Kentucky’s Land of the Arches: The Red River Gorge

Here geologic time tumbles
from the sandstone face in great slabs
of rock,  progress marked
on some same clock keeping pace
with glaciers, the passing of comets,
volcano formation.

The stone’s lonely O frames
mountaintop, dark gorge,
catches a patch of white sky
in its aperture. It shows
where time was, and now passed

sings its only hymn to a congregation
of centipede and snake, blackbird
perched on an ancient laurel,
trillium unfurled,
its pale ear pressed to the stars.

II.    Hell’s Kitchen

If there is a moderate to high level of water in the creek, do not attempt this walk for this little canyon becomes a death trap when the flow is strong.
                    —Kentucky’s Land of the Arches: The Red River Gorge

In fact, it is hell to get to. Bad
signage, a backtracked trail, then
bushwacking down a steep pitch,
pine-needle slick, to frenzied shallows
where sandstone shoulders hunch
above a boggy shore. We splash through
where the log flow once banged and rocked
into jams, choked in the narrows
of Swift Camp Creek.  We check the book
for our location, certify our position
against the photo’s perspective, smug
that we have not mistaken Bear Pen Narrows,
the easier route, for the original Hell’s Kitchen.

Here, men would set a pot of coffee
firing on the banks, make camp, wait
for the upriver ruckus to roar past.
They pried apart the crossed timber
in a roiling kettle that could break a man
caught in its fray, tumble him
to the bottom, head and bone smashed
against the bed, his body bucked
to the surface and fetched
with a hooked staff, racked
like lumber on the rocks.

But this low summer pool threatens
no one, and the shouts of industry, danger,
gone with the railroad, the collapsed ties
sodden and splintered at bank’s edge.
We consider the best path
to our next point of interest—
D. Boone’s Hut and the hidden still—
though ahead we see the truth:
There is no good way out,
deep water ahead, a sheer sandstone face
insisting on either side, only the same
stony road of good intentions.

III.    Lover’s Leap

This overlook offers possibly the most awesome straight-down view in the area.
                    —Kentucky’s Land of the Arches: The Red River Gorge

Darling, I could never jump, cannot
even go near this shifting sandstone edge
without a sink and swirl in my gut,
sudden, shallow panting and damp brow.
At first whisper of dizzy breeze, I grip
the wind blistered branch of scrub
clawing the limestone face, gasp
at the straight-down view, the grey veil
of mist sifting across crenellated green.

There are leaps like this
in every high and wild place
where the signature ghosts remain:  
an Indian maid’s face unraveling
in a waterfall’s eternal surge;
a river current singing the names
of drowned and traitorous love;
wheeling shadows on a red canyon wall
of two pitched to misplaced bliss.

What difficult trail did they travel
to get to this point? Did he and she
step in silence, one before the other
twisting through rough brush,
lifting their bodies over a blunt rock ledge?
And did they search for signs
along the way, the ram-in-thicket salvation
that would release them from their terminal pact?

I breathe in, check my step,
make a mute and final pledge:
The rush and skip of my erratic heart?
This swan dive of desire?
I will take it to the grave.


© by Lynnell Edwards


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