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THE TRIBES HAVE ALL ARRIVED

 

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The tribes have all arrived
The Simmons
The Brysons
The Elkins
The Odoms
Campbells, Mitchells
Davenports, Todds, Boss’, and Tenpennys
All streaming over the hillsides

Some brought bread, some war
Some brought knowledge and understanding
Always someone brought a guitar

Some brought whiskey, some brought God
Some sought peace
And some fought hard

Some left home in search of land
Some for freedom
Some for debts
And for some there was no choice

Stephen Wade
Son of Milton wade
Son of Hershael Clejoe
Son of Alfred Tatum
I name you, chief of this legion
From the top of the Highland Rim
To the mouth of the Stones River
That flows through the Great Basin

Till you feel the need to bequeath
To those who come after your reign
Will they know?
What we all believed
What were our hopes, our dreams?

During our long days
That lead to hard, short lives
You had to believe in a better place
Fever and Hunger drove our plows
When our backs were too tired
Few moments for melancholy
When empty bellies filled our minds

But life insists upon itself
And though not each newborn survived
More and more did
More sons and daughters
Put their imprint on life
Until you arrived…

We would like you to be happy
But you are too soft and so hard to please
What we need is for you to be fulfilled
So all of this was not for naught
It’s you that chains our ghosts down the hall

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

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MY MYSTERY COMPANION

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I barely remember you
From those first days
Something my grandmother reminds me about
How adamant I was
My imaginary companion
Was real

I heard tales of you
I sought you out
As a foolish child
Little ghost hunter
My friends would chide

I led a posse of my best friends
Loaded to bear our arms
Cases of ammunition
Named Miller and Bud, lite
With a sober driver headed off into the night

Hunkered down in the edge of the woods
We jumped off the train tracks
Oncoming locomotive and the wind blowing hard on our faces
I turned and looked at you
It was there in that moment of foxfire
I realized who was shy

Now I kick the stinkhorn out of the mulch
As I trim the English Laurels in Spring
Inspecting the yellow euonymus for mites
Ides of March arriving

I am as old as my parents were then
That Spring I was eighteen
O’ how my Willow would return now and again
And leave me as quick as a child that Wisp
In summertime the fireflies will always remind

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

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LIVING WITH A VIRUS

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     We’ve been living with an altered reality the past three months. Millions infected, millions jobless, over a hundred thousand here in the United States dead in a very short amount of time. Millions are jobless and some industries may be years from returning, if they ever do. Families and friends not able to hug one another. Wearing masks around one another and trying not to touch surfaces and wondering if we touched our face or not. Trying to be safe rather than sorry has never felt so exhausting. We are undergoing an incredible stress test and it is understandable so many of us are about to crack and are completely overwhelmed by recent events. 

     Last month my cousin had a terrible stroke and had to have surgery to have blood clots removed from his brain. My family’s hearts have been breaking for his two children and his brother and sister. Last weekend my Aunt tested positive for covid and within 24 hours was in an ICU covid unit. She lives in the Woodbury Nursing home and I’ve been worried about her from the start. She is mentally disabled and the thought of her being alone and not understanding is heartbreaking. The disease is brought into these vulnerable populations by healthcare workers. 

     Last Saturday was the first time I’ve seen my parents since the pandemic started. I drove a few hours to sit outside from a hopefully safe distance and visit with them. Technology is great, but it’s not the same as real life facetime. When I got back home on Saturday there were many people walking back to their cars from the protest downtown. And of course by nightfall the people who were there to instigate had begun to begin sowing chaos. Watching the five helicopters in the air from my apartment hover over downtown and listening to the sirens till a curfew was imposed was the ending to another surreal day. 

     We have been living with another virus for much longer in this country. Our original sin has infected us with racism and like covid, it is never going to be entirely eliminated. Between the pandemic and the economic fallout there are many people suffering now. Some communities were hit harder than others and many were suffering before. I have been a lot quieter lately than normal. Americans have big hearts and big mouths, and that goes for yours truly. I am trying to listen more right now. I am one-hundred percent behind those trying to push for change and social justice. A lot of us want to speak out but we don’t want to say the wrong thing. We don’t want to take up oxygen that should go to others’ voices anymore than we want to steal oxygen from dying patients. We don’t want to stay silent either and have others think we are complacent with the status quo. Do we touch this surface?  

     God, I have so much faith in my fellow man. Many of my dear friends think I’m too idealistic. I just know too much in too many people’s hearts. And I see so many little cracks letting the light in. It’s time to listen. 

 

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RETURN OF THE HAWKS

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There has been a return of the hawks
We clear land for more houses in the fields and strip malls
Driving the small rodents out into the open
Nature’s most fearless and gifted hunters
Population soars

Perched upon highwire lines
Eagle eyed birds of prey
Nervous twitching down below
Of mice and other eyes
Appetizers on full display

I have my father’s enthusiasm
For the small things in life
A cold beer in the yard
Burning leaves in the fall
Catchy guitar lick

As I sit on his back porch
Giving back to the July eve
As my humid birth month pulls out
Excess sugar and salt through my pores
Lined up on my arm in beads

I watch a rabbit cautiously
Get farther and farther out into the yard
Enjoying the fresh cut clover
As a red tailed hawk swoops down the driveway
The rabbit escape back to the bush

The hawk watches me for awhile
I sense he’s suspicious of my interest as he moves on
None of us like to be observed for too long
For some of us
There is always tomorrow

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

 

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CONFEDERATE CORPSE

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We should never think ourselves too busy 

To pay respect for the recently departed

We should always show deference 

While we bury our dead

Always pull over for a funeral procession

 

The child that plays with plastic rebel flags

And souvenirs with Robert E. Lee’s likeness

Staging battles with his straight stick he imagines as his rifle

Eventually grows up to be a man

Fully aware of the Confederate corpse in his family’s closet

 

The past is not forgotten

It is not even past

So sayeth the Southern poets

Nothing is truly dead

While it stills roams around in our heads

 

Headlights passing by

Like slow moving ants

Heading East

An early rising moon

Quiet about what she sees

 

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

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OH SAPIEN

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February’s long cold rains finally slowed

And the mayflies can barely contain their excitement

The earthworms are still quite cautious

More measured lest they be a robin’s breakfast

I’d gage mine as somewhere in between

As the blade of my shovel cuts into the soil

For the first time this April

 

If you live long enough

Life will continue to reveal itself as it comes into focus

Like your rival when you were seventeen

Who had your spot on the basketball team

He will be gone by cancer

Before his fortieth birthday 

Survived by a heartbroken wife and newborn

 

The coach that called you a quitter

That cursed you as he shattered his clipboard

Will be found with a shotgun in his lap

Still sitting in his wheelchair in South Carolina

Before your sophomore year of college

They caught him the first time after the razor

The one time all conference college basketball star

This time did not miss

 

It would not be fair to be able to go back

The mayflies are excited of course

We were too when we first arrived

Before we were burdened with knowledge

But we have years and years of data now

Stored in these big brains

We first used to make those tools and start those fires

We became good at surviving

But we struggle when we slow down

When we do not move

We were not built for this world we accidentally created

Long days with no purpose

 

The moment you stopped and decided

To occupy a piece of land

You committed yourself to a lifetime of pulling weeds

Around the corn stalks

In your garden

Around your home

Your heart

 

Oh Sapien

While you sat in the field playing with the witch hazel and the hawksbane

Drawing circles in the dirt with the bird’s bones

Tracing your fingers over limestone remains

Chasing foxfire ghosts in the evening at dusk

The world slowly slipped away

It did not lie, you just wanted to be deceived

 

The vultures lined up in the loblolly pines

Like a row of judges in the air at the yard’s edge

Stare down at you reminding you nature has no conscious

Somewhere you hope there be a dead rabbit

There will be no hung jury, only what is final

 

You are not on the last road

But you are just beyond a long winding curve

Can’t quite see what lies ahead

But you can begin make out the lay of the land

 

The dust collecting on the floor

The sunlight always hits at 10am

Underneath your favorite chair

Is just you decomposing 

Year after year

With your morning coffee

Reading words and rubbing your chin

 

You do not know what you are going to do

Anymore than you know what you want for Sunday dinner

And that is your greatest sin

Now so burdened with being

That you forget to live

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

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TURNING THE PAGE

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Not quite Autumn

Yet it feels like a page

Somewhere is beginning to turn

In that smidge of yellow on the leaves of the tall Tulip Poplar

Like a giant celestial thumb print

From the one who writes it all

 

A break in the thick sticky humidness

The first hint of a chill after nightfall

As the crickets begin the outro

To their long green summer’s song

Somewhere a new symphony begins

Warming up the woodwinds

 

A great mourning begins in the soul

Of what has been lost in the past season’s cycle

Some trivial and soon forgotten

Some monumental

Like our ancestors piling stones in a field

We still don’t really know

And that is our greatest source of anxious woe

Still there will be a celebration of the harvest too

 

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ONE DAY YOU WILL KNOW

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The Boy Scouts scale the rickety steps

Of the old Fire Tower on Short Mountain

Reaching into the sky

Rust like blood streaking steel that disappears

 

Terrified of the ascent a new calculation of height

But surely worth the white knuckled view

One day they will know

This was their first true glimpse of God

 

The lessons you thought

Grandpa taught you

Weren’t in the swinging of the hammer

Or striking of a nail’s head true

 

But in the picking of the blackberries

On Pleasant Ridge

Collecting them in his cap turned upside down

Sometimes sweet sometimes tart

 

His cracked and stumbled cleft chin

Moving to say proud things a child should emulate

His dark brown Preacher’s’ eyes otherwise

One day you will know

 

It is the blackberry seed stuck between your teeth

From the afternoon treat

What begins as irritant eventually becomes routine

You have to accept something before you can understand what it means

 

The brother’s drink beer and pass the guitar back and forth

They laugh and tell stories of things you don’t yet understand

It’s always funny to them when you interrupt to ask what something means

They pat you on the head one day you will know

 

You will find their guitar pick in the grass playing the next day

And you will keep it only to lose it and re-find it over and over again

Another piece of plastic among a child’s playthings

But each time it’s discovered you know more what it means

 

The silver dollar placed under your pillow

By your Grandmother playing tooth fairy While you feigned sleep

Was not her real gift to you

One day you will know

 

Mined Copper and Silver formed off past the stars

Now eighty years of fingerprints a smoothed reminder of the days of your spirits dancing

And when you hold her hand still attached to a body full of cancer

You can outnumber those days in your mind with the ones filled with her laughter

 

You will hold the hands and sit on the laps of Great-Grandfathers and Great-Grandmothers

And Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles

You will play in the same ancient dirt with your cousins

Looking amazed at dug up arrowheads and fossils just as dumbfounded as your ancestors

 

It will hover all around you your entire life

It will whisper in your ear and wake you up some nights

And one day when you are ready

You will know

 

Stephen Simmons

 

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ARISEN

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Easter Sunday
Woodbury, Tennessee
The year of our Lord Nineteen Eighty-Something
Sunny, swirling pinkish clouds overcast
Too many patrons for the old Church upon that Hill to contain

Outside service
Just this one time a year
Even Dad’s there, though it’s not a swipe at God
But rather the denomination
A Baptist married to a Church of Christ-coin toss lost

Kids fidget
In new itchy pastel dresses and suits
Especially this one, dragging his feet all the way to town
An Easter basket that morn
Full of chocolate candy and a toy helps the day go down

Sunday dinner
At Granny and Pa’s
Became the highlight as time went on
When I couldn’t be forced
Into itchy new suits, polaroids or a doctrine’s narrow walls

Good Friday
Her Saints presiding o’er
Our troubled years struggling as we make passage
Unlike the Rebel Jesus
Lucky for us no one wrote about our rambunctious years

Grandpa Bryson
And Grandma, from the Elkin’s clan
Reside o’er a feast held for a mob of hungry freckled kids
The Irish, Scots and English
Have all made peace in our blood as we break bread

Ides of March
Are now past us this Spring
Wild rabbits after a long winter ready to play
Tornadoes buzz
But we are arisen, Oh Lord are we arisen

~Stephen Simmons

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SUNDOWNERS

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The days last gasp
Of honey and amber streaked across the sky
Squeezed out of sundown
Reflecting down the highway
Lighting up the high wire lines

Stretched out like a golden lasso
Reaching around the Earth
And if you could wrap it all the way around this world
It would finally have to tell you the truth

The Sundowners beginning to mumble
The morning’s coffee pot stale
The smell of dried bacon grease from the morning’s breakfast
The crickets beginning their evening serenade

A hide and seek sunset teasing you the day wasn’t good enough
As if to say “wait…not yet”
Till peekaboo’s light streaks sneak behind the tree line finally
“Ok, now I’m through”
It’s time for the night to see what it can do

~Stephen Simmons