Linda Parsons




To my first husband, let me say all those years
we burned the night oil up I-81 from Knoxville
to your parents in north Jersey, you were right
about the blind of fog dropping its soft hammer
on tail lights ahead. Right about the speed I double-
dog dared, thinking I could out-blue the Shenandoahs,
make Bethlehem by dawn. Right that whatever
wreckage stalled on the yellow line would be
our Waterloo, our vanished horizon still time
away, never mind my fool’s errand, the children
tucked like your mother’s cannoli in sugared sleep,
precious cargo she called them, barely stirring
as we raced on apart.


To my mother, I still see you at the Greyhound
station after our visit, a guest in my house
as I was in yours, shedding each other like coats
out of season, arguments stale as that depot
on Magnolia, seats torn, half-smoked smokes,
Coke gumming the floor. Let me say the kids
needed dinner before the Music City bus boarded,
so I left you then as I wouldn’t now, with those people,
no car or extra dollar to their name, left with a pat
on the hand, cheek turned as brakes hissed
their going, neither waving goodbye, goodbye,
running along the silver length for a last glance,
blowing what kisses we had left.


To my father, owning the highway’s mirage
of heat and speed, let me say I was the one
waiting till you circled home, sales soared
on a smile and a shoeshine. The one unversed
in fourth and goal, second down, play by play
you armchair quarterbacked, home from your swath
of territory. Let me say I’m the one with the tray
of greens and pintos in assisted living where you
wonder if enough players are on the field
and how did I find you in the dead of winter,
the road snowed over, though outside May
blooms her heart out. Let me say I will always
find you, alone on the bench, hypnotized
by the whiteout, the crowd a roar in your head.
Just as you found me, motherless, uncompassed,
without a ride to childhood’s remains,
veering into the constellated dark.


To my daughters, let me say I sowed no wild
oats before nineteen, quoting Ruth at the altar:
Whither thou goest, and so on, sour even then
in my ear and mouth. I had not spit black seeds
across the kitchen I swept and polished to keep
the ship yar, my mother in dress whites commanding
the stern. To say I flew off willy-nilly you know
too well, your pillar of childhood dissolved to salt,
my leaden baggage nothing like precious cargo.
Let me say there’s time to raise my flag with yours,
our shifting winds none could foresee or batten
down, time to raise our wild whither we goest,
spit change across the black sea.


To my second husband, let me say the books,
some yours, some mine, are still talking in their rows,
unlike us, after your leaving, I might say, like a thief
in the night. The gazebo you trucked in for my fiftieth
is just as violet in the gloaming, the porch just as pleasant,
haint blue the bane of ill will, wicker an embrace.
Most of our years, let me say, were an anchor against
the hard past, our best words’ fertile field, lying now
in rust and stubble of daily disappointments—
but in wormy forbearance the gardens fruit ever on,
fed on your absence. To say fear begat our prophecy
is to blame the Earth for its turning, which I sit
and watch unfailingly, saying to moon and sun
lit with the same old glory, Tell me that one again.


To my granddaughters, let me say life is a coin,
the rarest Indian head, dullest copper, the backwoods
you sneak to behind the creek, the tracks your mother
tells you never, never, rails trembling with transit
where you balance the coin, your ears to the ground’s
thunder. Notice how honeysuckle chokes the fence,
the wild rose—then step back and wait, please step
as the iron horse barrels past. And though
you know to cool it before touching, you will anyway,
before it’s ready. Let me imagine your two heads
together in wonder at the power that blew your hair,
shut your eyes, the metal flattened into something
indiscernible, something changed in an instant,
the future white hot in your hands.

        return to poetry

Linda Parsons is a poet, playwright, and an editor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the reviews editor for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, Shenandoah, Writers Southern Humanities Review, Resist, in Ted Kooser’s column American Life in Poetry, and in numerous anthologies. This Shaky Earth is her fourth poetry collection. Parsons’s adaptation, Macbeth Is the New Black, co-written with Jayne Morgan, was produced at Maryville College and Western Carolina University, and her play Under the Esso Moon received a staged reading in spring 2017 as part of Tennessee Stage Company’s New Play Festival.