Matthew Haughton

From The Stiltwalker of Greenup County

     
   

“I read the landscapes, the streams, the air, and the skies.
I took my time doing it.... I had plenty of time to grow up
in a world that /i loved more and more as I grew older.”
                                                            - Jesse Stuart

     
         
 

II

     
   

Before slow death and plum groves,
his life began in the mouth
of coal-mines and the body of tobacco.

Born second of seven,
he was the first son and last farmer.

Three dollars a day went a long way
to help feed a family,
mixing concrete for paving streets —
not much a world away
from getting by;
a restless life for a day-dreamer.

Between empty tables and buried seeds
came tall tales and songs
for a young man to learn to sing,

stories of mountain men
and legendary daughters,
all of those breaking their backs
living at the bottom.

Slow ballads rising up from the dirt
where he stood,

leaning against a low-hanging
tree, listening
to the silence of an open acre:

 

Go out there, make a word to be read
one day. Go on now, learn a song
and return some day.
These stars and hills will shape
your heart, bring you a bed.
Go now, sing and you will be fed.

     
         
 

V

     
   

Mother speaks of times
when he’d make it
to Upper Chloe
when she was little.
You’d find him
on up the road, talking
with fiddle players
about all things
Sky, God, and Country.
He’d be up there
after taking
the longer road
of the world,
listening to their songs
while watching
the loosestrife grow.
Talk of those visits
speak like images
of old Presidents
waving from passing
trains, a silent life
running off of steam.

     
         
 

VI

     
   

Homecoming. There came a time
when he walked so far,
that he had to return
home and rest for awhile.
He eased back into life quietly
after so many miles —
every pasture seemed
to carry his weariness
back to when he was a child.

“Lie still, my dust” he said,
listening for that voice
of earth to call him again.

And so he died where he loved
the soil; a handful of dirt,
a grave for his travels.

People go on speaking of him,
from time to time
his name brings a smile,

out here among the hills
where he’d walk to sing
for an acre to live in the wild.

     
 
      return to poetry
 

Matthew Haughton is the author of Stand in the Stillness of Woods. His chapbook, Bee-coursing Box, was nominated for the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry Book of the Year. His poems have appeared in many journals including Appalachian Journal, Now & Then, Still, Border Crossing and The Louisville Review. Haughton works as a public school teacher in his native Kentucky.