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Poetry Corner | “Backwoods Vespers”

I don’t know about you, but it’s starting to feel as if winter is never going to end. Here in East Tennessee we’ve had quite a bit of snow – much more than usual – and temperatures below zero on several occasions. There have been at least two “polar vortexes” so far, dumping snow and plummeting temperatures in the Northeast and completely shutting down the city of Atlanta.

I found this poem by the esteemed Bill Brown in an anthology published by the Knoxville Writer’s Guild, and it seemed perfect for how I’m feeling in the cloudy midst of gray skies, chilling winds and black ice. This poem sparked hope in me that the sun will return, flowers will bloom – and I should actually slow down and revel in this season, hear the creak of icy branches and take this time to savor, to recharge, to reconnect. There will be a time of prickly heat and motion – but for now, I will not allow the cold to hollow my bones, empty my soul: I will appreciate and enjoy it, because it, too, will soon melt and fade.

Future

“Backwoods Vespers”

By Bill Brown

The February evening snow whispers

through the stark of winter trees, masks

the upper bark of limbs, and hums a vespers

to a night so quiet, heretic arms fumble the task

of bearing split oak to the kitchen hearth.

At mid-winter this act has become a litany

of wood to stove and the responding warmth,

a ritual which most nights brings me sanity.

After a day of teaching English in the city,

I relearn the ache of our little planet tilting

painfully pack toward summer. I learn that pity

and fear are not just tragic words lilted

from a teacher’s tired voice, and in the harsh night air

between hardwood and dumb sky, the mum necessity of prayer.

This poem last appeared in the book Gods of Little Pleasures, Sow’s Ear Press 2001.

Bill Brown is the author of eight collections of poems, and Important Words, a writing textbook. His new collection, Elemental, is forthcoming from 3: A Taos Press, Denver in 2014. He has twice received fellowships in poetry from the Tennessee Arts Commission, awarded the Writer of the Year 2011 by the Tennessee Writers Alliance, a Scholar at Bread Loaf Writers Conference and a Fellow at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Bill Brown has graduate degrees in literature from Middlebury College and George Peabody College. He has taught creative writing, literature and learning theory at Hume-Fogg Magnet School, Radford University, and Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. He lives on a ridge north of Nashville with his wife, Suzanne, and a tribe of cats.

Photo credit: Creative Commons License Future by Kevin Lallier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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About Tomi Wiley (38 Articles)
Tomi L. Wiley is the Poetry and Short Fiction Editor for Sweatpants & Coffee.com. She has written and edited for media including Southern Living and Oxford American magazines, has been published in the literary anthologies Milk & Ink: a Mosaic of Motherhood, Telling Tales, Maypop and the Southeast Review, has coordinated panels for the Southern Festival of Books, spoken on the creative writing process at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is a past president of the Tennessee Writers Alliance. She lives in Knoxville, where she is writing her first novel with the help of lots of wine, goat cheese and the Barefoot Contessa.

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  1. February Newsletter | The Writer's Loft at MTSU

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